In the winter of 2015 in Paris, 193 countries and the European Union came together for the first time to forge a common strategy to trim greenhouse gas emissions that were irreversibly cooking the planet. Though the agreement struck to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius frayed with time, the Paris pact only grew in importance because it established a benchmark, a clear goal and path forward to tackle the climate crisis. For the associated but more neglected question of biodiversity conservation, a similar global benchmark was achieved this week, when 196 countries signed a landmark deal to protect 30% of the world for nature by 2030, reduce environmentally harmful subsidies by at least $500 billion a year, and restore at least 30% (by area) of degraded ecosystems.
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework proposed to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance close to zero by 2030, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. With four main goals and 23 targets for 2030, the pact covers a vast swathe of biodiversity, and pledges to reverse the loss. It called for urgent action to halt human-induced extinction of threatened species; reduce pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources by 2030; identify and eliminate or reform incentives, including subsidies, that are harmful for biodiversity by 2025; and reduce the risk from pesticides and hazardous chemicals during this period.
For India, the fine print is key. The country pushed to make biodiversity targets global, which means countries have the flexibility to choose pathways based on circumstances. But even this will mean the government will have to balance its development and strategic imperatives with environmental ones, especially in the context of controversial projects in Nicobar and the Himalayan hills. The country will be happy with the language on subsidies because it avoided a hard numerical target. Agricultural subsidies have historically been a sensitive issue with political and social ramifications in India though some subsidies are now proving to be environmentally and economically unsustainable, even domestically. Similarly, the country has won the space to reduce chemical pesticide use at its own pace. But the lack of a firm agreement on finances, especially the language that leaves space for developing countries to become donors, is worrying, as is the refusal of the US to sign the pact. Nevertheless, Montreal marks a breakthrough in the struggle to protect the planet’s biodiversity richness. A beginning has been made.