Many key goals in a proposed agreement on protecting the planet's biodiversity remain unsettled as debate continues over who will pay for the ambitious pledges, delegates at a UN meeting in Montreal said Monday.

Delegates to the UN meeting told reporters Monday that the pace of negotiations appears to have picked up in recent days, but more progress needs to happen if an agreement is to be reached by the time the COP15 biodiversity conference ends.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, said there has still been no agreement on numerical targets, how the deal will be implemented and who will pay for those pledges.

"Good progress has been made," Mrema told reporters. "But if you look specifically at the Global Biodiversity Framework negotiations, it's still a bumpy road."

Among the targets that remain unsettled is a proposal championed by Canada and a number of other countries to protect 30 per cent of the world's land and water by 2030, as well as targets around the reduction of species extinction and harmful pesticide use.

But Mrema said she's optimistic a deal can be reach before the conference is scheduled to end Dec. 19.

Ladislav Miko, who represents the European Commission, said discussions need to move "dramatically forward" before ministers and other high-level delegates arrive later this week to finalize the text. Otherwise, he said, they risk being bogged down in technical details and won't have time to negotiate the bigger issues.

"We do believe the crucial thing is we leave the ministerial segment with several main political issues to discuss, and we should make progress on the other issues as much as possible," he said.

Mrema said around 130 environment ministers and around 40 deputy or vice ministers are expected to participate in the high-level negotiations that begin Thursday.

All numerical targets including '30x30' pledge remain unsettled in #COP15 negotiations. #CDNPoli #Biodiversity #ClimateChange

Canada's environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, told The Canadian Press in an interview Monday that after formal negotiations on Saturday, the text outlining 22 biodiversity targets is about 35 per cent cleaner — meaning there are fewer bracketed words indicating text that is still under discussion.

Both Canada and China, which is the official host of the event, told the secretariat overseeing the conference they have to stop allowing more brackets or new text to be added to the draft and focus on cleaning it up. "Our hope is that by the time ministers arrive on Wednesday, we have a text that is about 80 per cent clean," Guilbeault said.

Mrema praised the behind-the-scenes co-operation between Canada and China to ensure a deal is reached at the conference, adding that Guilbeault and his Chinese counterpart have been meeting regularly.

"The ministers have been meeting almost every other day just to take stock of how the negotiations are going, and are already strategizing how they can continue to lead this process moving forward," she said.

A spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund said there are positive conversations happening around some goals, including a proposal to conserve 30 per cent of the planet's land and water by 2030.

But Lucia Ruiz Bustos, the biodiversity and finance co-ordinator for WWF Mexico, said progress on that goal could be compromised by the current impasse over how the world will finance its goals and targets, and, in particular, how much money richer countries need to transfer to developing ones.

Marco Lambertini, the WWF's director, said the negotiations are caught in a back-and-forth between ambition and cost. "It's absolutely true that in order to deliver the ambition, we need the right commensurate resources," and that most of those resources need to go to the global South, he said.

Guido Broekhoven, another WWF spokesman, said some have estimated the cost of implementing the biodiversity framework at US$700 billion, although the actual cost will depend on the final agreement. Both Lambertini and the representatives of the European Union said those resources cannot come from governments alone.

Florika Fink-Hooijer of the European Commission said that calls for more financing from developing nations are "legitimate" but finding the money won't be so easy.

While the EU is a "reliable" donor of development assistance, the magnitude of the challenge will require more than foreign aid. She urged decision-makers to look to domestic financing, banks, industry and philanthropic sources to secure additional funds.

Despite the differences, the delegates who spoke Monday said they felt the pace of the talks had picked up after a slow start, and they were encouraged by the progress that has been made.

"I'm confident," said Guilbeault. "I think we are getting there."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.

— With files from Mia Rabson and Jacob Serebrin

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