Historic commitment to conserve 30% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas adopted at COP15

Claire Smith, Alice Brennan
02 Feb 2023
Time to read: 4.5 minutes

COP15 has resulted in a historic voluntary agreement to protect biodiversity including the “30 by 30” commitment: conservation of 30% of the world's lands and waters by 2030.

On 19 December 2022, the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD) adopted the “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF), including 4 long-term goals for 2050 and 23 targets for 2030. Representatives of 188 governments (approx. 95% of the signatories to the UN CBD) finalised and approved measures to arrest the alarming loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity with the aim of setting humanity in the direction of a sustainable relationship with nature.

Kunming-Montreal 2030 Global Targets

The GBF sets the key target of “30 by 30” – conservation of 30% of the world's lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans by 2030 (Target 3). This is significant as it is a large increase on existing conservation efforts (currently only 17% and 10% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas are under protection) and is a central pillar to the GBF.

There is also a complementary target to ensure least 30% of areas of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration by 2030 to enhance ecosystem functions and connectivity (Target 2) and a target to reduce loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity (such as rainforests) to close to zero by 2030 while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (Target 1).

Significant finance will be needed to achieve these ambitious targets particularly as many of the highest value conservation areas are in the poorest countries. Target 19 aims to mobilise by 2030 at least $200 billion per year in domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from all sources, public and private including by:

  • mobilising at least US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and up to at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030 of funding transfers from developed countries to least developed countries, small island developing States, and countries with economies in transition;
  • stimulating biodiversity offset and credit schemes, green bonds, payment for ecosystem services and benefit-sharing mechanisms; and
  • optimising co-benefits and synergies of finance targeting the biodiversity and climate crises.

Further, Target 18 focuses on the progressive phase-out or reform by 2030 of subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity’s conservation and sustainable use.

Other agreed targets focus on reducing the harmful impacts of humans on the environment including steps to eliminate plastic pollution, halving food waste, reducing the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals and nutrient losses to the environment by at least half and promotion of sustainable intensification, agroecological and other innovative approaches in agriculture and fisheries that will have a nature neutral or nature positive impact.

There is a specific target focusing on minimising the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity through use of nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches to promote biodiversity resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions (Target 8).

There are also indigenous and gender equality targets to ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities (Targets 22 and 23).

Nature (unlike carbon) is multi-faceted and location specific and it will be crucial to ensure the best available data, monitoring, research and knowledge management is available particularly in respect of traditional knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of indigenous peoples and local communities with their free, prior and informed consent (Target 21),

Kunming-Montreal Global Goals for 2050

The framework has four long-term goals for 2050.

  • Goal A is focused on the key goal of halting biodiversity loss and enhancing the resilience of natural ecosystems.
  • Goal B focuses on managing biodiversity sustainably, with appropriate value placed on biodiversity.
  • Goal C focuses on monetary and non-monetary benefits of genetic resources fairly and equitably; and
  • Goal D provides for adequate means of implementation (including financial resources) and access to and transfer of technology to implement the GBF.

In addition to the GBF, the meeting approved a series of related agreements on its implementation, including:

  • planning, monitoring, reporting and review;
  • resource mobilization;
  • helping nations to build their capacity to meet the obligations; and
  • digital sequence information on genetic resources.

What's next?

Although the GBF is not legally binding, governments will be tasked with showing their progress on meeting the targets with national biodiversity plans, of a similar nature to the nationally determined contributions used to demonstrate progress on meeting the Paris climate agreement.

Some observers have expressed disappointment at the weaker language, including the fact that the term "nature positive" did not appear in the agreement, which is the focus of the Taskforce on Nature-based Financial Disclosures (TNFD).

With TNFD launching in September 2023 it was hoped that there would be further guidance in the GBF that could assist with the biodiversity disclosure taxonomy. Importantly, however, there is an express mandatory disclosure Target 15 that will help drive rapid global adoption of TNFD that requires large and transnational companies and financial institutions to:

  • regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, including with requirements for all large as well as transnational companies and financial institutions along their operations, supply and value chains and portfolios,
  • provide information needed to consumers to promote sustainable consumption patterns, an
  • report on compliance with access and benefit-sharing regulations and measures, as applicable,

in order to progressively reduce negative impacts on biodiversity, increase positive impacts, reduce biodiversity-related risks to business and financial institutions, and promote actions to ensure sustainable patterns of production.

There is increasing recognition of the high or moderate dependence on nature many sectors of the Australian economy have (eg. agriculture, energy, transport and manufacturing) and financial institutions will come under even greater scrutiny in 2023 to disclose the biodiversity impacts of their clients and explain what they are doing to promote nature positive impacts.

The text used in Target 19 is noteworthy as it expressly refers to “biodiversity credits” and optimising “co-benefits” of finance targeting the biodiversity and the climate crisis. There is a large appetite for private finance to invest in nature-based solutions (also referred to in Target 8) that avoid or reduce carbon emissions through natural capital funds, nature-based equity exchanges that separate out biodiversity co-benefits from carbon projects and biodiversity credit schemes.

Although the financial commitments are non-binding (and the financial commitments under COP26 were not honoured) there may be a renewed impetus (particularly with TNFD) for substantive private as well as public funds to flow into nature positive projects whether they are nature-based solutions or are primarily for conservation. The Commonwealth Government has already proposed a new voluntary Biodiversity Certification Scheme which it intends to run parallel to the carbon market and be overseen by the Clean Energy Regulator. Nature based solutions could potentially account for over half of the global voluntary market by 2030 and there is likely to be a proliferation of voluntary biodiversity credit schemes over the next few years eg. GreenCollar has already launched its NaturePlusTM biodiversity credit scheme that has a third party audit and verification mechanism. The increasing willingness of individuals and organisations to make donations or investments through technology platforms (eg. crowd funding) could also assist conservation eg. Wilderlands has launched a technology platform seeking funding for specific conservation and regeneration projects in Australia through the purchase of Biological Diversity Units.

One of the key unresolved issues at Montreal was the extent to which the expansion of protected areas will come at the expense of indigenous land rights. Although the “30 by 30” target refers to the need to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, including over their traditional territories much of the high biodiversity value conservation areas are in the poorest countries where it is hardest to balance human needs with nature conservation. The GBF refers to South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation to ensure sustainable development goals can be achieved but ongoing and meaningful engagement with indigenous peoples will remain paramount if the right balance is to be struck.

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