A coalition of more than 50 countries has committed to protect almost one-third of the planet by 2030 to halt the destruction of the natural world and slow extinctions of wildlife.
The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which includes the UK and countries from six continents, made the pledge to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans before the One Planet Summit in Paris opened on Monday, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Scientists have said human activities are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, and agricultural production, mining and pollution are threatening the healthy functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems crucial to human civilization.
In the announcement, the HAC said protecting at least 30 percent of the planet for nature by the end of the decade was crucial to preventing mass extinctions of plants and animals, and ensuring the natural production of clean air and water.
The commitment is likely to be the headline target of the “Paris agreement for nature” that is to be negotiated at COP15 in Kunming, China, later this year.
The HAC said it hoped early commitments from countries such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Pakistan, Japan and Canada would ensure it formed the basis of the UN agreement.
UN Convention on Biological Diversity Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema welcomed the pledge, but cautioned: “It is one thing to commit, but quite different to deliver. But when we have committed, we must deliver. And with concerted efforts, we can collectively deliver.”
The announcement at the One Planet summit, which also saw pledges to invest billions of pounds in the Great Green Wall in Africa and the launch of a new sustainable finance charter called the Terra Carta by Britain’s Prince Charles, was met with skepticism from some campaigners.
Greta Thunberg wrote on Twitter: “LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris: Bla bla nature Bla bla important Bla bla ambitious Bla bla green investments…”
As part of the HAC announcement, British Minister for the International Environment and Climate Zac Goldsmith said: “We know there is no pathway to tackling climate change that does not involve a massive increase in our efforts to protect and restore nature. So as co-host of the next Climate Cop, the UK is absolutely committed to leading the global fight against biodiversity loss and we are proud to act as co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition.
However, despite support for the target from several countries, many indigenous activists have said that increasing protected areas for nature could result in land grabs and human rights violations.
The announcement might also concern some developing countries who are keen for ambitious commitments on finance and sustainable development as part of the Kunming agreement, not just conservation.
Unlike its climate equivalent, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity covers three issues: the sustainable use of nature, sharing benefits from genetic resources, and conservation.
The three pillars of the treaty can clash with each other and richer, developed countries have been accused of focusing too much on conservation while ignoring difficult choices on agriculture and providing finance for poorer nations to meet targets.
The High Ambition Coalition, chaired by France, Costa Rica and the UK, was formed at Durban UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Cop in 2011 in an effort to encourage ambitious international action on the climate crisis before the Paris agreement.
By promoting action on biodiversity loss, it is hoped early commitments from the HAC can ensure a successful agreement for nature.
Over the last decade, the world has failed to meet a single target to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.
On Monday, leaders from around the world met in person and virtually at the One Planet summit in Paris to discuss the biodiversity crisis, promoting agroecology and the relationship between human health and nature.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the event, which also included statements from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng (韓正).
The UK government has also committed ￡3 billion (US$4.1 billion) of UK international climate finance to supporting nature and biodiversity over the next five years.
The funding was welcomed by conservation and environmental organizations, but there were questions about the scale of the funding and whether it came at the cost of international aid.
“Increasing funds to protect and enhance nature is critical to help secure success at the global biodiversity conference in China this year. Siphoning off cash from funds already committed to tackling the climate crisis simply isn’t enough,” Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom said.
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