- Declaration calls on countries to act swiftly against species loss
- China’s willingness to protect 30% of its country is still questionable
- Declaration clouded by language dispute
KUNMING, China, Oct. 13 (Reuters) – More than 100 countries pledged Wednesday to put habitat protection at the center of government decisions, but they haven’t set specific targets to curb mass extinction.
Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu told delegates to a UN biodiversity conference in Kunming City that the declaration they adopted was a document of political will and not a binding international agreement.
The Kunming Declaration calls for “urgent and integrated action” to reflect biodiversity considerations across all sectors of the global economy, but crucial issues – such as funding conservation in poorer countries and the commitment to biodiversity-friendly supply chains – were discussed later.
With the loss of plant and animal species now reaching the highest level in 10 million years, politicians, scientists and experts are trying to create the basis for a new pact to preserve biodiversity.
In a previous agreement signed in Aichi, Japan in 2010, governments agreed on 20 goals to slow biodiversity loss and protect habitats by 2020, but none of those goals were met.
At the heart of the effort to protect nature is a United Nations call to countries to protect and conserve 30% of their territories by 2030 – a goal known as “30 by 30” that the conference recognized, though not it was clear to what extent host China supported it.
“The statement referred to the ’30 by 30 ‘target, but did not specify whether or not Beijing was involved,” said Li Shuo, chief climate advisor for the Greenpeace environmental group.
A 30% pledge could prove to be too much for the country of China, which has nearly 10,000 nature reserves covering 18% of its territory.
“There are academics who say 24%, 25% might be reasonable, but even reaching 18% was a challenge, so 30% might be difficult,” said Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist speaking on behalf of the Beijing conference Participated in the talks -based China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.
A single target for all would also be inadequate for countries like Indonesia and Brazil, where a target of 30% would actually allow more deforestation, she added.
Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, downplayed the importance of adopting the specific 30% target.
“We have to remember that we need to focus on the biodiversity results, not the spatial domain,” she told Reuters.
Aside from asking about conservation goals, some activists have complained that disagreements over the wording of the statement distracted delegates’ attention when urgent action was needed.
A first draft of the declaration, released in August, contained political slogans related to Chinese President Xi Jinping that created tension and underscored China’s inexperience in implementing international agreements to the point of completion.
Following feedback from more than 40 countries, Xi’s slogan “clear water and lush mountains” was removed from the text, although the Chinese concept of “ecological civilization” was retained.
There have been complaints, particularly from Japan, that China pushed through the declaration without sufficient discussion, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.
“Basically, they felt that some of the statements did not have enough time to consult,” said Hughes.
Huang told delegates that China followed the same procedures used in adopting previous biodiversity agreements.
It remains to be seen, however, said Li, whether China has the experience to push through a new pact in a second phase of talks next year.
“Our global biodiversity crisis is urgent, but so far progress on the Convention on Biological Diversity has been too slow,” he said.
Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel
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