bargaining begins in China

    It’s a COP about which we speak little. However, it can be compared, in terms of importance for biodiversity, to the Paris Climate Agreement. Monday October 11, the fifteenth “Conference of the Parties” of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) opened in Kunming, China. The objective of the 196 members: to adopt a new framework of action for the protection of biodiversity. The resolutions adopted at the end of these negotiations, which should end in spring 2022, will serve as a roadmap for the next ten years.

    The stakes are high: the latest global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services shows that one million animal and plant species – more than one in eight – are at risk of disappearing over the coming decades. This 1,500-page document, drawn up over three years thanks to contributions from 450 experts, compiles figures that are all overwhelming. Over the past five decades, the biomass of wild animals has declined by 82 %. 40 % of amphibian species, 33 % of coral reefs and a third of marine mammals are threatened with extinction. 75 % of the terrestrial environment is today severely impaired by human activities. The current rate of species extinction, the report concludes, is 10 to 100 times the average of the past ten million years.

    In France, Lessona’s green frog is classified as “ almost threatened »Because it frequents wetlands, which are in decline. Flickr / CC BYNCHER 2.0 / Tobias Nordhausen

    The goal of this COP is to define international objectives making it possible to at least partially curb this slaughter. The work started this week in Kunming is only the first step. The COP15 having already been postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the idea of ​​this fall summit is above all to revive the political dynamic , says Juliette Landry, specialist in international governance of biodiversity at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (Iddri). Until October 15, only virtual discussions between state representatives will take place. The resumption of negotiations will only take place in January, in Switzerland, before the final adoption of the text in May.

    The goals were ambitious but none of them were met

    These negotiations are all the more crucial as the last two attempts have been unsuccessful. In 2002 and 2010, members of the Convention on Biological Diversity had developed ten-year strategic plans to halt the erosion of biodiversity. In Aichi, Japan, the parties agreed to protect 17 % of land areas, save 10 % of maritime areas and reduce by at least half the rate of loss of natural habitat. The goals as such were ambitious, but none of them were met , says Juliette Landry to Reporterre.

    It is necessary that international negotiations enter in a new age of maturity , according to Aleksandar Rankovic, professor at Sciences Po and author (with François Gemenne and the Sciences Po cartography workshop) of theAnthropocene Atlas. We need to have more precise, better quantified – even quantified targets. So far, they have been mostly qualitative.

    Another challenge is to put in place mechanisms to monitor the measures put in place by States. Until then, the latter were content to agree on the objectives to be achieved, without ever being accountable for their concrete actions. In order to avoid leading to a COP of paper , the accountability and State transparency are absolutely essential, according to Jean-David Abel, head of the Biodiversity network at France Nature Environnement. States must absolutely explain what they do on a regular basis , he insists. It is also necessary, according to Juliette Landry, that these new objectives be taken into account at all levels of decision-making, from the local community to the multinational. We will have to put everyone in the same boat to move forward together , she says.

    Fossil fuels cost 9.5 million euros every minute

    Another major project is that of state funding. It has long been known that subsidies harmful to biodiversity are a major problem, explains Aleksandar Rankovic. About $ 800 billion [690 milliards d’euros] aid is granted each year by governments to sectors known to be very damaging to biodiversity, such as intensive agriculture or fossil fuels. In comparison, when we add all the candles, we barely spend $ 150 billion [130 milliards d’euros] for biodiversity per year, whereas it would take 800 billion dollars, according to the most recent studies, to improve the networks of protected areas and especially to allow the sectors most harmful to biodiversity and the climate to be transformed.

    In its current version, the draft global biodiversity framework offers several protection levers for the coming decade. Among them, the restoration of at least 20 % of degraded ecosystems, protecting 30 % of land and sea areas, the reduction of two thirds of pesticides released into the environment, the elimination of all plastic waste or the reduction of 50 % of the rate of introduction and establishment of invasive species. This version of the text also suggests reducing subsidies harmful to biodiversity by at least 500 billion dollars per year (430 billion euros). She invites, Conversely, to increase the resources dedicated to the protection of living organisms to at least 200 billion dollars per year (172 billion euros).

    These objectives, like those of the Paris Agreement, are legally binding but not obligatory: the Parties are committed in international law to respect them but no sanction can be applied if they are not. This device is supposed to ensure the presence of as many countries as possible around the negotiating table, the existence of fines being able to push some to withdraw from the discussions.

    The transformation of the economic and agricultural model, this is the sinews of war

    According to Aleksandar Rankovic, the ambitions of the text could be raised. There is a principle that would benefit from being made explicit: it is not an à la carte menu. All these measures are necessary to achieve a rather positive result. If we do nothing to limit agricultural pollution or curb the spread of invasive species, we may increase the protected areas, we will not improve the situation.

    The researcher also believes that the text could go further away with regard to the protection and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, who are among the main actors in the fight for the defense of biodiversity. As for the conservation objective of 30 % of land and sea areas, this is a low range, he assures: according to the most recent scientific publications, it would be necessary to protect half of the planetary surface to effectively save living things. Many countries are waving this 30 % in standard. We tend to only talk about that. Protected areas are very important, but this spotlight is too selective. Everything that touches on the transformation of the economic and agricultural model is the sinews of war.

    Creating protected areas without limiting intensive agriculture is not useful, insists a researcher. Pxhere / CC / Kevin Leconte

    It is difficult to predict how this text will evolve during the negotiations. However, a few points of tension are already appearing in the quantification of the objectives, in particular on the percentage reduction in pesticide releases into the environment. Some countries are also reluctant to establish links between the objectives of preserving biodiversity and those of mitigating global warming. The countries which display a strong ambition still find it difficult to defend their positions, while those which do not want to shoot red balls, explains Aleksandar Rankovic. Last June, China said, for example, that if we went too far in assessing the ambition of states, we would infringe their sovereignty.

    Agro-exporting countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, are among the most determined to reduce the ambitions of this text, underlines the researcher. Divide lines also appear between developed and developing countries when it comes to financing actions in favor of biodiversity. The latter are in fact often perceived as an obstacle to economic development. For developing countries, it will be difficult to find an agreement without financial commitment, especially developed countries , notes Juliette Landry.

    It is therefore a titanic job that awaits the negotiators before the final signing of this text, in May 2022. Its ambition, specify the United Nations, is to allow human beings to live in harmony with nature by 2050. It remains to translate this declaration of intent into concrete measures.

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