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Ministers Near Global Deal at Landmark UN Nature Talks

Police officers walk past a sign as they patrol outside the Palais de Congres, during the opening of COP15, a two-week U.N. biodiversity summit in Montreal, Canada, Dec. 6, 2022.
Police officers walk past a sign as they patrol outside the Palais de Congres, during the opening of COP15, a two-week U.N. biodiversity summit in Montreal, Canada, Dec. 6, 2022.

Negotiators at a U.N. summit to protect nature were closing in on a new global deal Sunday that could see 30% of the world's land and seas protected by 2030, with hundreds of billions of dollars directed toward conserving wild places and species.

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

"Another potential round of work needs to be done so we can align the resources and the ambition," said Colombia Environment Minister Susana Muhamad. "But I'm very optimistic that, as the main goals have been landed and there is no, in general, opposition to these goals, we have made a very important step forward."

Policymakers hope an ambitious deal can spur nature conservation in the same way that an international pact in Paris in 2015 helped mobilize efforts to limit planet-warming carbon emissions.

The draft, based on the last two weeks of talks, sets a crucial financial target of $200 billion per year for conservation initiatives, though it demands less from wealthy countries than some developing states had wanted.

It lays out support for protecting 30% of land and waters by 2030, a landmark goal informally known as “30-by-30" and suggests restoring 30% of degraded lands.

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

Businesses should also be asked to assess and disclose how they affect and are affected by nature loss, but the current document does not make such reporting mandatory.

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

Ministers and government officials from nearly 200 countries need to come to a consensus on 23 proposed targets by midnight Monday (0500 GMT on Tuesday).

Devil in the details

While optimistic, environmental campaigners worry the technical wording of the 30-by-30 target might not adequately address ocean conservation.

The target mentions protecting at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas.

However, it does not clarify whether this means 30% of land and separately 30% of oceans, said Brian O'Donnell, director of the nonprofit Campaign for Nature, adding that China needs to quickly clarify its intent.

"The target should split land and sea to make sure 30% applies to them respectively," said Li Shuo, senior global policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia.

Mobilizing money

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

Developing countries were pushing for half of that - $100 billion per year - to flow from wealthy countries to poorer nations. However, the text mentions only that $20 billion to $30 billion per year comes from developed countries by 2030.

"Probably we will have to reach an agreement between $30 billion and $100 billion," Colombia's Muhamad told reporters.

The draft also notes that the money could come voluntarily from any country - a nod to developed nations' desire that countries with large economies, such as China, also contribute funds.

Having China and Arab countries joining would be "a huge step forward," Sinkevicius said.

Asked whether China should be considered a developing country, as still defined by the World Bank, he said, "I think we should not stick to 1992 descriptions but see the reality on the ground, and it's very different from 1992."

One of the greatest points of contention among delegates has been whether a new fund should be established for that money, improving on an existing structure. On Wednesday morning, developing country negotiators walked out of a financing meeting in protest. The draft deal does not mention setting up a separate facility.

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

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.

"At an institutional level, the train has left the station in any case because financial institutions are increasingly aware that nature risk is sitting on their balance sheets."

Lastly, risks from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals would be reduced by at least half, but the text does not address slashing their overall use.

"At the end of the day this is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss," Sinkevicius said.

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