The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

COP15 biodiversity summit: Paving the road to extinction with good intentions

The head table gets set to open the high level segment at the COP15 biodiversity conference, in Montreal, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

The good news: Every country on Earth except the United States and the Holy See just committed to 23 targets intended to put the world on a path toward living in harmony with nature by 2050.

The bad news: The tepid agreement is two years late and $670 billion short of what’s needed.

Capping a series of contentious digital and in-person negotiations for more than two years, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) just adopted the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework.

I was in Montreal observing COP15, in a room with hundreds of people and a word-processing document projected onto a screen, every word of which had to be agreed upon by all parties, who took turns suggesting edits.

Some delegates pushed for the bold actions necessary to save life on Earth, like committing to immediately halt extinction and preserve ecosystems. Others defended deforestation and wildlife exploitation. One delegate went so far as to say that it would be cruel to developing nations to protect intact ecosystems.

Given the vastly divergent positions, it’s a win for the natural world that the conference president was able to muscle through any agreement. But the devil is in the details, and the details here aren’t enough to get us out of the mess we’ve created.

COP15’s global commitment to protect 30 percent of lands and waters is a pivotal breakthrough, but there’s no agreement on what qualifies as protected. And given the climate and extinction crises, scientists say we need to protect at least half the Earth to ensure a livable future for wildlife and human communities. The clock is ticking.

One bright spot in the framework is the centering of Indigenous rights — a rebuke to colonialism’s reprehensible legacy. For the first time, the new targets on land protection and use of wildlife include recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

But in a clear signal that we’re still not taking threats to our own survival seriously enough, COP15 backtracked on the commitment to end extinction. The previous framework, the 2010 Aichi targets, called for preventing extinction of known threatened species by 2020. Like most other 2010 targets, this one was not achieved, and that failure hung over Montreal.

Instead of doubling down and creating a better game plan, delegates lowered the goalposts and kicked the can down the road.

Goal A of the new framework calls for extinction rate and risk to be reduced tenfold by 2050. Most scientists agree that the current rate is already accelerated 1,000 times, so a tenfold reduction 30 years from now would mean plants and animals are still disappearing a hundred times faster than is acceptable. Extinction begets extinction, and a 30-year gap while the fabric of life unravels will make it even more difficult to recover crashing wildlife populations.

Putting goals on paper is one thing, but commitments must be met with finance. As delegates from the global south emphasized in a walkout, the global north didn’t commit enough money. The agreed-upon commitment of $30 billion a year by 2030 is abysmally short of filling the $700 billion gap that analysts say must be closed to halt biodiversity loss.

Overconsumption by wealthy nations drives the extinction and climate crises through imports of fossil fuels, as well as beef, palm oil, seafood and thousands of other agricultural and wildlife products. The activities killing the planet are currently funded by $1.8 trillion in annual subsidies. For that reason, Target 18 in the new agreement calls for identifying and reforming harmful subsidies, which could go far in maintaining a livable planet.  

The United States was the elephant not in the room in Montreal, and despite being one of the countries with the greatest capacity to fund preservation efforts and curtail harmful activities, we didn’t have an official voice. The U.S. Senate’s stubborn refusal to ratify the convention reflects that we aren’t taking the extinction crisis seriously.

We’re showing again and again that we don’t really value biodiversity protection, here or abroad.  Domestically, Congress failed to pass the widely supported bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would have funded conservation actions. Riders on the just-passed omnibus bill sacrificed protections for the North Atlantic right whale and greater sage grouse.

With only two years left in his current term, President Biden should declare the extinction crisis a national emergency and wield those powers to recover endangered species, restore healthy wildlife populations and overhaul federal land management. Those actions would help realize his America the Beautiful initiative to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters.

As a species on a planet, our well-being is directly tied to the health of the plants and animals we share the Earth with. In the end, protecting biodiversity is protecting ourselves.

Tierra Curry is a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, where she directs the Saving Life on Earth campaign to stop extinction.

Tags Biden Biodiversity Climate change Deforestation Environment Fossil fuel Pollution wildlife

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Energy and Environment News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video