It was almost a special moment in the early hours of Monday morning at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. China and Canada, bickering adversaries, came together for the good of the planet to help the world at COP15 forge a once-in-a-decade deal to stop the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems.
From a focus on Indigenous rights to conserving 30% of the Earth for nature, there is reason to believe that the Kunming-Montreal Agreement could be a truly historic and hopeful turning point in the humanity’s relationship with nature after decades of destruction and warnings of mass extinctions.
“For us, it’s like a paradigm shift,” said Viviana Figueroa, a representative of the International Indigenous Biodiversity Forum (IIFB). “They recognize this important role that was invisible.” “A historic agreement”, said Christophe Béchu, French Minister for Ecological Transition, of the agreement, presented by some as the “Parisian moment” of nature, in reference to the climate agreement reached in Paris in 2015.
But a last-minute objection from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which appears to have been overruled on a legal technicality by Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister and COP15 president, has left some with a bad taste in their mouths and d Others fearing some nature-rich states won’t take the implementation seriously.
The DRC negotiator made it clear that his country was not in favor of adopting the text. But he didn’t use the right wording to express it formally, which is why the final deal is said to be legally acceptable.
The world has never achieved the goal it set for nature. COP15 was meant to be different, with a focus on ensuring countries follow suit.
Eve Bazaiba, DRC’s environment minister, said her country does not recognize the deal and will complain to the UN secretary-general about how her country’s objections were handled in plenary.
“We did not sign the agreement. It is not possible for us to implement it. We cannot accept the level of ambition without more funding,” she said.
The DRC may be one of the poorest countries in the world but in terms of biodiversity it is a superpower. It is home to most of the second largest rainforest in the world, the Congo Basin Rainforest, the only one that sucks in more carbon than it releases. The Virunga mountain gorillas are world famous and are the subject of numerous documentaries.
Despite claims by the DRC government that it is committed to protecting its wildlife, it continues oil and gas exploration in these vital ecosystems – including Virunga, making its objections hypocritical in the eyes of many.
Until the last plenary session, Canadian Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental activist turned minister, and Runqiu had worked together behind the scenes to bring the countries together – an unlikely partnership between a liberal democracy and an authoritarian dictatorship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau facing the G20 just a month ago.
In the early hours of Monday morning, the DRC resisted at the last minute the creation of a new biodiversity fund, which it said it needed to pay for conservation and alternative livelihoods. Many say this is a dishonest negotiation tactic, designed to get as much money as possible from the northern hemisphere.
But for the big picture of protecting key ecosystems, this poses a problem for the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal deal just hours after it appears to have been agreed.
The Montreal summit aimed to ensure that ecosystems not to be destroyed – crucial for the climate and wildlife – survive the century, for the good of humanity.
And the spectacle of a biodiversity superpower like the DRC being thrown out of its position in the final minutes of COP15 by a Chinese president rushing a text has been interpreted by some African and Latin American states – rightly or not – as proof that their opinions do not matter.
Urgent political triage is needed to ensure the Kunming-Montreal deal holds. Earth cannot afford another decade of failure and destruction.
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