‘Paris Agreement for Nature’ raises hopes and doubts about biodiversity

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‘Paris Agreement for Nature’ raises hopes and doubts about biodiversity

Scientists and conservationists hailed a landmark agreement reached by the UN this week to protect a third of the planet’s land and sea by 2030, but warned that much still needs to be done to prevent the catastrophic demise of the natural world.

Reached in the early hours of last Monday (19) in Montreal, the pact takes place at a time when scientists are sounding the alarm about the generalized reduction of biodiversity. Many characterize biodiversity loss as a crisis that jeopardizes food chains and water supplies and exacerbates climate change.

Dubbed the “Paris Agreement for Nature” after the 2015 global climate agreement, the pact covers more than 20 goals, including a commitment that by 2030 at least 30% of land and oceans are “effectively conserved”. At least 30% of degraded land and ocean ecosystems must be included in “effective restoration” programs.

“It’s an important step,” said Lina Barrera of Conservation International.

But despite the cautious optimism expressed in the scientific community, many who followed the negotiations admitted that the end result was not perfect.

Unlike the Paris agreement, the new Global Biodiversity Framework does not set specific targets for each country and is criticized for not including stronger language about stopping extinction. And the covenant is not legally binding.

Biodiversity professor EJ Milner-Gulland, head of Oxford University’s department of zoology, said some of the targets were not defined in concrete terms.

“If you look up the details of the goals, which are for 2030, they tend to be articulated in quite general language, like ‘increasing’ biodiversity or ‘ensuring it is sustainable.’ “, said the teacher. “It’s really hard for countries to say ‘What am I going to have to do by 2030?’.”

She added that while so-called 30X30 targets are good, “they’re not going to solve the problem.”

“The scientific evidence makes it very clear that the only way to truly halt and reverse biodiversity loss is to tackle the underlying causes of biodiversity loss… and those causes are unsustainable consumption, unhealthy supply chains and overconsumption of the rich countries,” said Milner-Gulland.

Others raised concerns with vague goals about making countries commit to ending species extinctions before 2050.

“Basically the agreement is a watered down version of ‘business as usual’ when it comes to combating wildlife extinction,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The UN’s scientific body on nature, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), concluded in its 2019 assessment that 1 million animal and plant species were endangered. It also estimated that three-quarters of food crops that depend on animal pollination are at risk.

Scientists warn that it is important to specify which area is safeguarded by the 30% agreement.

“There are places that we know are more important for sustaining other systems outside this area,” said Jennifer Sunday, a marine biologist at McGill University. “Places where animals go to breed or where we know there are important migratory nodes in a web. Not all land fresh water and ocean water are the same.”

Christopher Dunn, executive director of the Cornell Botanical Gardens, said: “There will be working groups from now until the end of time working on this issue.”

But Dunn said that international agreements always contain some concessions and that while the absence of “clearly defined goals” was “a little worrying”, the pact is generally positive.

The final approval process for the pact, chaired by China, was marred by complaints from several African countries about the way in which the procedures were carried out.

“The general agreement that was agreed upon was a good one,” Dunn said. “Some of the organizations that are concerned about the lack of specific goals – well, we’re the ones doing the work anyway, and we know what needs to be done.

Translated by Clara Allain

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