By Ayoola Stephen Olapade
As the talks to secure the next decade of targets to stop the destruction of nature reach the final stages, the United Kingdom has been accused of hypocrisy over environment protection targets while the United States absence from the COP15 conference is conspicuously felt.
Meanwhile, China which holds the presidency of Cop15 – the first time it has led on a major UN environment deal – has presented the proposed text of a new global agreement that would commit to protecting at least 30 per cent of land, water and marine areas by 2030.
The draft of the Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework was published this morning as delegates gather at the second to last official day at the COP15 biodiversity conference in Montreal.
The draft of the framework states the 30 per cent of conserved land and water should include areas that are the most important for biodiversity, and should include recognition of Indigenous territories when applicable.
The proposed agreement also includes a commitment to mobilize at least US $200 Billion per year from both public and private sources to finance nature, and to reduce subsidies that are harmful to nature by at least $500 Billion by 2030.
The final draft comes after nearly two weeks of negotiations among 196 countries who are part of the UN biodiversity convention. They are seeking a new deal to halt the human destruction of nature and to begin restoring what has already been lost.
The United Nations says three-quarters of the world’s land has been altered by human activities and one million species face extinction this century as a result.
UK Accused of Hypocrisy
Despite backing calls to protect 30% of world’s land and sea by 2030, UK has no such target in its own plans.
Consequently, environmentalists have accused the UK of hypocrisy stressing that the country’s environment targets do not protect Britain’s rainforests, cold water coral reefs, chalk streams and peat bogs.
On Friday, the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, announced the government’s legally binding targets at the UN summit in Montreal, where the world is negotiating this decade’s agreement to protect biodiversity on Earth, with talks expected to conclude on Monday.
The Environment Act targets include plans to restore more than half a million hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside protected areas by 2042, improve the quality of the UK’s marine protected areas, reduce pollution and nitrogen runoff in the river system, and expand tree cover in England to 16.5%.
With France and Costa Rica, the UK is co-leading a coalition of more than 100 countries who are supporting a target to protect 30% of land and sea on the planet by the end of the decade, known as “30×30”.
But the protected area target was not included in the UK government’s plans, despite support for 30×30 internationally.
“The UK is home to globally rare habitats that are under no designation at all. You can find fragments of Celtic temperate rainforest under no protection at all. Another example would be lowland-raised peat bogs, which are globally rare. Chalk streams and cold water coral reefs, too,” said Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, from the conference in Montreal.
“It’s astonishing to see the UK government voice so much support for 30×30 at Cop15 when there’s not a 30% target in our own environmental goals for protected areas.”
Similarly, Guy Shrubsole, environmental campaigner and author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain, said the government had missed an opportunity to make the country wilder, and urged it to follow the example of the incoming Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, on rainforests.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for the UK government to be calling on the world to commit to 30×30 and be falling so woefully behind on this at home,” he said. “Currently, just 3% of England is properly protected for nature. The government’s new Environment Act targets will only add another 4% in new habitats by 2042 and ministers ducked a chance this week to make our national parks wilder. Meanwhile we have President-elect Lula pledging to end deforestation of the Amazon rainforest – the least Britain should do is start to bring back our own temperate rainforests.”
US Lingers On The Sidelines But Courts Attention
The US not joining the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 30 years ago has been described as the “major holdout” among countries looking to support the convention’s goals.
As negotiations for this decade’s UN biodiversity targets are entering their frantic final hours in Montreal, the absence of the US political machine is noticeable, changing the power dynamics in talks between the remaining 196 countries.
Scientists and environmentalists have long urged the US to join the biodiversity convention, given the country’s extensive involvement in designing the UN treaty and natural landscapes that include the archipelago of Hawaii, the temperate rainforests of Alaska and the coral reefs and swamps of Florida, whose protection inspires bipartisan pride.
Oscar Soria, campaign director of the activist organisation Avaaz, said the US was pulling strings behind closed doors at the conference, a “classic but hugely outdated diplomatic strategy”.
Signing the convention would be a proper platform for the US to display its ambition on nature, he added. But there is no sign of the US joining anytime soon.