A Conservation Gift to the World Was Wrapped in Montreal

Reflections on COP15 and the new Global Biodiversity Framework.
COP15 sign outside of the Palais de Congres in Montreal.

Over this weekend while much of the world worried about holiday shopping, the clock ticked closer to the end of the largest and most important biodiversity negotiation in the world at COP15 in Montreal. Official negotiators and observers alike were both exhausted and worried. Throughout the weeks-long process, very little of the text of the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreement had been finalized.

 Would world leaders do the right thing for birds and all biodiversity?

From early December through this past weekend, hundreds of presentations and events were held by both non-governmental and governments to highlight the major issues related to biodiversity conservation and pressure negotiators to the highest ambitions. Audubon participated in several of these events related to conservation in Canada’s Boreal Forest including one on the globally important bird migration corridor of the Hudson-James Bay Lowlands. Another was on a bird sound recording project in the 12-million-acre Seal River Watershed in northern Manitoba being proposed for protection by the four First Nations whose traditional territories overlap with the region.

While there were a great many desires that each person and organization hoped to be included in the agreement, there were four main themes that we and many others were watching for:

  • An explicit goal of protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030;
  • Recognition of the rights of Indigenous people and their knowledge and leadership in conservation and land-use decisions;
  • The need for vastly increased funding for biodiversity conservation including support from wealthy nations to those that are under-resourced but contain much of the world’s biodiversity and;
  • The need for support and encouragement of nature-based climate solutions that conserve biodiversity while maintaining carbon storage to mitigate climate change.

At 7:30 on Sunday night the scheduled plenary session to announce the hoped-for final agreement came and went. The announcement was pushed back by an hour, then several hours more. Behind the scenes, environment ministers and their negotiating teams were meeting, trying to find agreements on countless provisions within the agreement. Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, and his team, took on a major role, working with China’s delegation, to shepherd the process forward. Finally, at 3 AM on Monday morning, the agreement was finalized!

Amazingly, the Global Biodiversity Framework includes the specific and much higher benchmark of protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030, up from the previous benchmark of 17% of lands and waters. 

The Global Biodiversity Framework also explicitly recognizes the rights of Indigenous people and that land-use decisions about their lands should be made by them. The agreement set a goal of bringing annual total worldwide biodiversity funding to 200 billion dollars per year and of doubling the amount of funding from wealthy nations going to under-resourced but biodiversity-rich countries from ten billion to twenty billion by 2025 and to thirty billion by 2030. And, yes, the crucial role of nature-based climate solutions was acknowledged as well.

It is always remarkable when multiple countries can agree on anything. But when over 190 of the world’s nations can agree on goals for biodiversity conservation as forward-thinking as these, it is cause for optimism. The question of whether these goals are reached or even attempted to be reached depends largely on you and me. Democratic governments at least are accountable to the people, and leaders must be reminded of the values we hold dear. This includes making sure that our natural world is healthy with robust and resilient wildlife populations (birds included), intact forests and wetlands, and clean air and waters.

The goals contained in the new Global Biodiversity Framework are ones that we can push our elected leaders to adhere to and find ways to bring funding to support. We are fortunate that Canada has been leading the efforts to showcase how a government can support much higher biodiversity conservation goals, particularly through support of Indigenous-led conservation and stewardship. Over the several weeks of COP15, Canada’s federal government made a host of incredible announcements including:

  • $800 million for four Indigenous-led conservation efforts in massive landscapes and seascapes including in the Northwest Territories and the Hudson-James Bay region;
  • $20.6 million to implement the Canada–Yukon Nature Agreement—the first agreement of its kind—to advance nature conservation and protection across the Yukon;
  • $5.8 million for 14 Indigenous-led natural climate solutions projects;
  • The official launch of the First Nations National Guardians Network which now has employed 170 Indigenous Guardians;
  • $255 million to help developing countries build a strong future, including by fighting climate change, protecting nature, and supporting resilient local economies;
  • $350 million to support developing countries – home to the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity – to advance conservation efforts.

In the coming months and years, conservation organizations will be asking us all to help remind our leaders of the goals that the nations of the world adopted together in 2022 so we can push them to do what needs to be done for birds, for nature, for people. We hope you will join us and stand ready to be part of leading the way.