At Conservation Summit, World Leaders Offer a Soft Commitment to Protect Land and Ocean

Declaration from UN Convention on Biological Diversity does not reflect science on needed safeguards

At Conservation Summit, World Leaders Offer a Soft Commitment to Protect Land and Ocean
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The Kunming Declaration falls short of delivering a vision of how humankind can live in harmony with nature by 2050.
Jordan Robins

A new set of commitments by ministers and heads of state from more than 100 governments to better protect natural areas around the world offers some reason for optimism but falls short of what is needed to ensure a biodiverse and sustainable future for life on Earth. The commitments are outlined in the Kunming Declaration, which was adopted on Oct. 13 during part one of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held virtually and in person in Kunming, China.

On the promising side, the declaration stresses the need for urgent and integrated action “to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030,” and includes a critical commitment to “enable the full and effective participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities, women, youth and other relevant stakeholders.”

The statement also notes “the call of many countries to protect and conserve 30% of land and sea areas through well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030.” Over the past year, global momentum toward this “30 by 30” commitment has grown, with more than 70 countries supporting it , and 103 countries specifically backing a 30 by 30 target for the ocean.

But the reference to 30 by 30 was noted only in the opening text of the declaration and not stated as a commitment for action. In addition, although the declaration calls for increased coverage of protected areas and conservation measures, it falls short of committing to the safeguards that the best available science indicates are needed. For example, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress last month in Marseilles, France, members voted to adopt Motion 101, which states that the majority of the science concludes “protecting, conserving and restoring at least half or more of the planet is likely necessary to reverse biodiversity loss, address climate change and as a foundation for sustainably managing the whole planet.” To this end, the Kunming Declaration is a step back from both the science and the current draft text of the post-2020 framework, which already includes the 30 by 30 target.

World leaders have been working on a draft text for that framework since January 2020, and the Kunming Declaration, which is intended to signify unified support and ambition, is a step back from the current negotiated text of the framework. CBD members are expected to adopt the final text of the framework at a second Kunming meeting, scheduled for April and May 2022.

As negotiations on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework move forward, leaders will need to clarify how the plan will be finalized and implemented. For example, one key detail is how to close the US $700 billion annual global financing gap between the available funding and what’s needed to deliver global biodiversity targets. At the start of the Kunming meeting, China assumed the CBD presidency and now has  the opportunity to lead by pushing for an ambitious framework and delivering a plan that, as the CBD’s 2050 vision states, seeks to put humanity on a path toward “living in harmony with nature.”

Masha Kalinina coordinates The Pew Charitable Trusts’ cross-campaign efforts with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.