Canada and nearly 200 other countries around the world now have eight years to set aside almost one-third of their land and marine territories for conservation under a landmark new biodiversity deal reached in Montreal on Monday.
Host nation China's environment minister, Huang Runqiu, lowered the gavel and declared the deal to be done at around 3:30 a.m., prompting a standing ovation from participants at the COP15 summit.
"This is a historic moment," Huang said through a translator in Montreal, where the nature talks were held due to challenges resulting from COVID-19 restrictions in China.
Canada's environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, called it "a bold step forward to protect nature, to protect the air that we breathe, the water that we drink."
"We work on these things for months and months and you really hope that you'll be able to land it," he said. "It's complicated. The file is complex, the politics. There's so many things that could have gone wrong and so many things that are challenging, and to be able to to land it ... was a really amazing moment."
The UN warned in 2019 that one million species are threatened with extinction this century and a majority of land and marine areas have been altered by human activity.
The result is a threat to human health and safety, including from pollution, dirty water, food insecurity and growing risk of the spread of animal-borne viruses. It is also exacerbating climate change, because fewer trees and wetlands are there to absorb carbon dioxide and fewer natural protections against extreme weather remain.
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In the long term, the deal seeks to end ongoing damage to ecosystems and threats to wild species and to restore what has been lost by 2050.
It includes 23 interim targets for 2030, which include ending activities that are harmful to nature by reducing the use of pesticides and harmful plastics, cutting down on food waste and adjusting our consumption habits so they are sustainable.
The world's wealthiest countries also have to ramp up their financial aid to developing nations to help them achieve their conservation goals, contributing the equivalent of C$27 billion annually by 2025, and more than C$40 billion a year by 2030.
They also need to eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to economic activities that harm nature, including for fisheries, farming and forestry.
The "30 by 30" target, which for Canada was the make-it-or-break-it part of the deal, is ambitious. The UN said Monday that 17 per cent of the world's land and 10 per cent of its marine areas are currently protected. Canada has protected about 14 per cent of both.
Globally, hitting the target of protecting 30 per cent of land and marine territory by 2030 amounts to conserving the equivalent of all the terrestrial land in Russia, Canada, China and the United States, and marine areas bigger in size than the Atlantic and Arctic oceans combined.
The negotiations were hampered by an impasse between developed nations, who were insisting on the 30 by 30 target, and developing nations who accused wealthier countries of setting high ambition without offering enough cash to help pay for it.
Also chief among the disputes was how the money would flow. Europe and most developed countries, including Canada, preferred to use the existing Global Environment Fund — known as the GEF — and argued that creating a new fund would take too much time.
Developing nations in Africa, Latin America and Asia wanted a new dedicated biodiversity fund and said the GEF was inefficient, slow to get money out the door and oversubscribed.
A compromise of sorts was reached, with a new, dedicated biodiversity fund to be created within the GEF.
Still, the financing disputes added drama and tension to the final moments of negotiations, when several nations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Uganda, accused Huang of forcing through the deal despite their objections.
Huang's gavel fell shortly after Congo's representative said his country couldn't support the agreement because of concerns about funding. But a legal adviser from the UN secretariat for biodiversity said that it wasn't a formal objection, so it didn't prevent the deal from being finalized.
The rift appeared to be partly smoothed over late Monday afternoon when Huang and Congo's environment minister, Ève Bazaiba, shook hands before the conference's final plenary.
Bazaiba told the assembled delegates that while her country supports many of the goals of the framework, it continues to have "reservations" about funding and mobilization of resources, and asked that these concerns appear in the conference's final report.
"We wish good luck to this process and will remain open to all constructive discussion" going forward, she said. Following her speech, Huang thanked her and, through a translator, expressed "huge personal appreciation for her leadership."
Francis Ogwal, a Ugandan delegate and one of the co-chairs of a working group helping with the negotiations, said Monday afternoon that he clarified with the Ugandan team that their objections were procedural and not about the agreement itself.
"Uganda is fully behind and supports the global biodiversity framework," Ogwal said.
Guido Broekhoven, director of policy and research at the World Wildlife Fund, said Congo's concerns are widespread among developing countries and cannot be ignored.
He said it's up to the world now to ensure rich countries live up to their promises to make the funding for biodiversity easier to developing countries to use.
"Now it is key that we hold the whole world, especially the richer countries, accountable for delivering the target and for creating mechanisms that will be able to channel resources in a way that is far more accessible than it has been until now."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2022.
By Mia Rabson in Ottawa with files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Bob Weber in Edmonton.