World leaders are negotiating new goals to protect nature by 2030 – history so far

“Getting biodiversity on the path to recovery is a crucial challenge of this decade.” This is how the Kunming Declaration on Biodiversity, which was adopted at the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference on October 13, 2021, also known as COP15, begins.

The purpose of the online meeting was to get governments from around the world to agree on new goals for nature for the next decade to replace the unsuccessful Aichi goals by 2020. This online event will be followed by a personal one in Geneva in January 2022, and negotiations will officially end in April 2022 in Kunming, China, where the world will agree on a global biodiversity framework for the post-2020 period with goals for the next decade.

Most countries (196 total, with the US being a notable exception) help fund the Convention on Biological Diversity, a series of agreements designed to protect the diversity of life on earth, from genes and species to entire ecosystems. Scientists are confident that this biodiversity is now falling sharply. A 2019 report estimated that one million of the nearly nine million species on earth could become extinct this century.

Global crises are often discussed independently. There is the biodiversity crisis, the climate crisis and the air pollution crisis. But the truth is that these issues are all related. Treating them separately overlooks their combined effect on species and ultimately humanity. It is becoming more and more urgent to set ambitious targets to combat biodiversity decline, along with other issues, and to develop credible plans to address them.

The world missed a goal of containing biodiversity loss by 2010 and then set 20 goals for 2020. Although there has been some progress (e.g. ocean), most of the 20 goals were not met.

A kelp forest in a South African marine reserve.
EPA-EFE / Nic Bothma

This is because countries have failed to address the root causes of biodiversity loss, which include the proliferation of harmful chemicals and the demand for energy and resources that exceeds renewables. As a result, tropical forests are being destroyed for the cultivation of palm oil and soy, which is used in many different products.

These systemic challenges require a transformation of the economy, regulatory systems and the way of life of some people – from the way we travel to our food – especially in rich countries like the UK. So the leaders of COP15 tried to make progress on this complex problem.

Read more: Overseas trade has a hidden ecological “disaster footprint” – new report


The convention once expected national governments to implement reforms to meet global goals. But countries have struggled to address cross-border issues such as invasive species and pollution of the atmosphere and ocean. In-country planning to achieve these global goals has relied on collaboration with civil society groups, business and local government, which is often difficult.

To address these issues, at COP15, governments consulted with business and financial leaders, indigenous peoples, youth and women’s groups.

Countries spent three to four years developing national strategies to meet their goals after the 2010 conference and did not have enough time to actually implement them before the 2020 milestone. 192 countries now have national biodiversity strategies and action plans that should enable them to get started right away.


Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a new Kunming Biodiversity Fund worth 1.5 billion yuan ($ 233 million) to support projects to protect biodiversity in developing countries, while Japan raised its own biodiversity fund by 1.8 billion yen ($ 17 million) expanded. There have been other commitments, including that of the European Commission to double funding for biodiversity.

These are relatively small amounts compared to funding coordinated by the United Nations Development Program, which has a portfolio of $ 3.2 billion (£ 2.3 billion) in 138 countries involved in managing invasive species , fighting poaching, coral reef restoration and conservation of protected areas. In September 2021, nine philanthropic organizations pledged $ 5 billion to protect nature. Another important boost to funding could come from redirecting subsidies that are currently damaging biodiversity, such as promoting intensive food production and fossil fuel extraction (valued at more than $ 5 billion a year), to renewable energy and nature-friendly agriculture.

A green tractor pulls a seed drill behind it in a plowed field.
Agricultural subsidies can promote the destruction of endangered habitats.
EPA-EFE / Gyorgy Varga

The organizers of the conference called on countries to integrate biodiversity restoration into all sectors of their economies, for example by developing agriculture and forestry policies that restore, not destroy, nature. Encouragingly, a coalition of financial institutions with assets of $ 13.9 trillion pledged to protect and restore biodiversity through their investments at the conference.

What happens next?

Protecting biodiversity will be a big part of the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow. It is important that both climate change and biodiversity loss are addressed as two interrelated issues. Because measures against climate change can actually damage biodiversity. The cultivation of bioenergy crops or the management of forests with the sole goal of carbon sequestration can mean replacing habitats rich in species.

Alternatively, nature-based solutions such as rewetting bogs (by raising water levels) to absorb carbon and protecting coastal habitats to reduce flooding can restore biodiversity. President Macron of France and Prince Charles of the United Kingdom proposed that 30% of the climate funds provided by countries and companies under the COP26 negotiations should go directly to restoring biodiversity.

National leaders are better informed than ever about the solutions. But do they have the political courage to make the necessary changes?

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