Countries agree on sweeping plan to protect nature, biodiversity by 2030

A global agreement to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 was reached early Monday morning at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal. The plan, adopted by 196 countries, would protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and sea, cut $500 billion in subsidies that harm nature, halve food waste and reduce risks from pesticides — all by the end of the decade.

“The agreement represents a major milestone for the conservation of our natural world, said Marco Lambertini, director general of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), “Biodiversity has never been so high on the political and business agenda.”

Under the plan, officially called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, nations also agreed to restore at least 30 percent of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by the end of the decade, take “urgent management actions” to stop human-induced extinctions, address the effects of invasive species and increase the connectivity of ecosystems. While the United States is not party to the agreement, it supports the conference’s flagship 30 x 30 target, that would protect 30 percent of the Earth’s land and seas by the end of the decade.

Food and agriculture issues are threaded throughout the agreement. About 1 million species are at risk of extinction, and food systems are considered the primary driver of biodiversity loss —  responsible for 70 percent of the decline of terrestrial species and half of freshwater ones. The framework would ensure the “sustainable management” of areas used for agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries, and specifically calls for “a substantial increase” in practices including sustainable intensification and agroecological approaches. 

It also calls for a reduction in pollution to levels that do not harm biodiversity by halving the amount of excess nutrients in the environment, which cause aquatic dead zones. It would also reduce the risks from pesticides and harmful chemicals through by encouraging integrated pest management while preventing and “working towards” eliminating plastic pollution.

Under the plan, countries also agreed to reduce humanity’s global ecological footprint by curbing overconsumption and the generation of waste. To get there, nations will encourage and enable more sustainable consumption by establishing “supportive” policies and regulations and improving education. 

Now that a deal has been reached, the real work begins. Countries will have to develop plans to meet the framework’s targets and report back on their progress. Their track record is not good — nations reached zero of the goals laid out in the Montreal agreement’s predecessor. And, while WWF praised the plan’s overall goals, it said some of the specific targets for achieving them were not ambitious enough and that it was now in countries’ hands to strengthen them.

“Governments have chosen the right side of history in Montreal,” Lambertini said, “but history will judge all of us if we don’t deliver on the promise made today.”