Ministers are closing in on global agreement at historic UN nature talks

MONTREAL, Dec. 18 (Reuters) – Negotiators at a UN summit to protect nature moved closer on Sunday to a new global deal that could protect 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030, with hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at conservation of wild places and species.

China, the chairperson of the COP15 conference in Montreal, released a draft text on Sunday morning that ministers welcomed with some reservations.

“One more possible round of work needs to be done so that we can match resources and ambition,” said Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad. “But I’m very optimistic that since the key goals are in and there’s generally no opposition to these goals, we’ve made a very significant step forward.”

Policymakers hope an ambitious deal can boost conservation in the same way an international pact in Paris in 2015 helped mobilize efforts to limit global warming carbon emissions.

The draft, based on talks over the past two weeks, sets a crucial financial goal of $200 billion a year for conservation initiatives, though it asks less of wealthy countries than some developing countries would have liked.

It includes support for protecting 30% of land and waters by 2030, a historic target known informally as 30-by-30, and proposes restoring 30% of degraded land.

“We were surprised that[the text]actually captures most of the things we want to go for,” a delegate from a European country told Reuters. On the restoration, he noted that the text went with a more ambitious target of 30% instead of 20%, which is “really good and ambitious and necessary”.

Companies should also be asked to assess and disclose how they impact and are impacted by wildlife loss, but the current document does not mandate such reporting.

EU Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told reporters during a break that negotiators were “on track to finalize a deal”, but he pointed to shortcomings in the numerical targets and expressed concern over an increase in funding from developed countries.

Ministers and government officials from nearly 200 countries must agree on 23 proposed targets by midnight Monday (Tuesday 05:00 GMT).


While environmentalists are optimistic, they worry that the technical wording of the 30-by-30 target doesn’t adequately address ocean conservation.

The target states the protection of at least 30% of land, inland water, coastal and marine areas.

However, it is not clear whether this means 30% of the land and separately 30% of the oceans, said Brian O’Donnell, director of the nonprofit Campaign for Nature, adding that China needs to clarify its intentions soon.

“The target should split land and sea to ensure that 30% apply to them respectively,” said Li Shuo, senior global policy advisor at Greenpeace East Asia.


The draft recommends allocating $200 billion a year from all sources, including the public and private sectors, for conservation initiatives — a goal seen as critical to the successful implementation of any deal.

Developing countries insisted that half of that – $100 billion a year – should flow from rich countries to poorer ones. However, the text only mentions that by 2030, $20 billion to $30 billion per year will come from developed countries.

“We will probably have to reach an agreement between $30 billion and $100 billion,” Colombian Muhamad told reporters.

The draft also states that the money can voluntarily come from any country – a nod to developed countries’ desire for countries with large economies, such as China, to contribute money as well.

The entry of China and Arab countries would be “a huge step forward,” Sinkevicius said.

When asked if China should be considered a developing country, as still defined by the World Bank, he said: “I think we should not stick to the descriptions of 1992, but see the reality on the ground, which is very unlike in 1992.”

One of the biggest points of contention among the delegates was whether a new fund should be created for that money to improve an existing structure. Negotiators from developing countries walked out of a financing meeting in protest on Wednesday morning. The draft agreement does not mention setting up a separate facility.

The text suggests that harmful subsidies should be cut by at least $500 billion a year by the end of the decade, but does not specify whether they should be eliminated, phased out or reformed.

Other proposals include instructing policymakers to “encourage and enable” companies to monitor, assess and disclose how they impact and are impacted on biodiversity, but not mandate these processes.

Tony Goldner, who heads a group working on a framework for companies to manage and disclose economic risks related to nature, said a number of countries and financial firms would move toward mandatory disclosure anyway.

“In any case, at the institutional level, the train has left the station, because financial institutions are increasingly aware that nature risk is on their balance sheet.”

Finally, the risks of pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals would be reduced by at least half, but the text makes no mention of reducing their widespread use.

“Ultimately, this is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss,” Sinkevicius said.

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Reporting by Gloria Dickie and Isla Binnie; Edited by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao

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