Historic environmental agreement struck at COP15

Canada hosts United Nations Biodversity Conference

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on
Biological Diversity, hosted by Canada in Montreal, Que., concluded on Dec. 19 with the
adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Representatives from 188 governments worldwide reached the agreement — its defining
characteristic being the commitment to protect 30 per cent of the planet’s land, coasts,
inland waters and oceans by 2030.

The need for a post-2020 biodiversity agreement was in response to Earth’s palpable loss
of biodiversity and the failure of governments’ past commitments. A 2020 United Nations
international report looked at national governments’ efforts from 2011-2020 to fulfill the 20
Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed upon at COP10 in 2010. The report concluded that no
targets were fully achieved, and only six were partially achieved.

The need for a new and improved agreement has intensified. The World Economic
Forum’s Global Risks Report of 2020 recognized loss of biodiversity, specifically human-
driven loss, as one of the most urgent threats facing our planet.

The 2022 agreement stipulates 23 environmental targets for governments to achieve.
Target 3, the protection of at least 30 per cent of the Earth’s ecosystems by 2030, is
unprecedented, as currently over 17 per cent of land and 7.7 per cent of oceans are

Other targets, such as number 10, seek governments’ assurance to sustainably manage
fisheries, agriculture, aquaculture and forestry, in order to maintain food security without
depleting ecosystems’ functions and services.

The commitments to these targets from all 188 representatives did not come easily.

Joseph Onoja, a Nigerian conservationist and director of the Nigerian Conservation
Foundation, pointed out the hypocrisy of colonial countries that built their wealth upon the
exploitation of resources around the globe telling developing countries to cease development
in order to preserve the environment. He argued that these same countries should be held
accountable for their past environmental actions.

As frustrations culminated, representatives from Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia
walked out of meetings.

Despite these frustrations, financial support was eventually determined. The agreement
stipulates that by 2030, developed countries should be providing US$30 billion in annual
biodiversity-related funding to developing countries.

Canada itself announced $255 million to help developing countries combat climate
change, protect the environment and support their economies, adding to an already
announced $350 million of funding to support biodiversity in these countries. During the
conference, Canada signed the Canada-Yukon Nature Agreement. The agreement is set to
advance conservation and protection across the Yukon, with Indigenous leadership having a
guiding hand.

A similar agreement has been struck involving Canada and the Manitoba provincial
government, as well as a partnership of four First Nations known as the Seal River
Watershed Alliance. These groups will take steps toward implementing an Indigenous
protected area within the Seal River watershed, located in northern Manitoba. The area is one of the world’s most significant carbon sinks — an area that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases.

To show their commitment to the new biodiversity framework, the Canadian government
has implemented immediate change. Effective Dec. 20, 2022, the import of certain harmful
single-use plastics such as checkout bags, cutlery and straws has been prohibited in
Canada. The government projects that this will lead to the elimination of 22,000 tonnes of
plastic pollution over the next 10 years.

Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault compared the
COP15 agreement’s significance to the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed in 2015.

While ambitious, the agreement struck at COP 15 is a positive step forward in the
international order, and hopefully the conference will set the tone of world affairs when
dealing with environmental issues for decades to come.