World delegates appear to kick deal to halt nature loss into long grass

Negotiations on an ambitious global biodiversity deal to halt or reverse nature loss closed in Switzerland on Tuesday, with countries agreeing to little more than further talks in June.

The Geneva meeting of around 1,000 negotiators from 164 countries was meant to be the last before the postponed U.N. Convention on Biodiversity meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming where countries are due to ratify a deal to protect some 1 million plant and animal species threatened with extinction.

The framework has the potential to be the biodiversity equivalent of the 2015 Paris climate deal but campaigners have bemoaned glacial progress in the talks that on Tuesday approved another round of negotiations in Kenya in late June.

Greenpeace East Asia senior policy adviser Li Shuo said the process was “on shaky ground”.

“This process has so far been ill-designed and underwhelming,” he added. A group of countries, including Britain, the United States and New Zealand, said in a closing statement that moving forward would require a “fundamental shift in our approach”.

The final draft text showed a large portion of the framework’s 21 targets still in square brackets – such as specific goals for reducing pesticide use and eliminating billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies that incentivise farmers to destroy habitats – indicating a lack of formal agreement.

On the main mission of halting and reversing biodiversity losses, negotiators could not decide whether they were aiming for 2030 or 2050, the document showed.

“It’s been incredibly frustrating,” said one delegate who declined to be named since the negotiating sessions are confidential.

In an illustration of the challenges, the convention’s co-chair Francis Ogwal begged delegates to approve wording that negotiators had carefully finessed until past 3 a.m. on Monday morning.

“I beg you not to square-bracket anything here. Can I gavel?” the Ugandan said addressing the room. He pounded the table and burst into laughter, only for Bolivia to object seconds later and unravel the consensus. A solution was later agreed.

MISSING BILLIONS

Another major area that remains unresolved is how the framework will be financed, with Africa and developing countries calling on wealthy nations to provide up to $700 billion in annual funding by 2030.

“The current architecture for global biodiversity financing should be transformed,” Stanislas Stephen Mouba, Gabon’s head of delegation, told the conference.

A coalition of organisations, including the World Wildlife Fund have called for wealthy countries to spend $60 billion annually on conservation in developing countries and in that way account for the harm done by international trade.

One positive outcome, even if not formalised, is that participants said there was convergence around the idea of protecting 30% of land and sea areas globally by 2030. A co-chair Basile van Havre told Reuters he saw support for that target from China, the talks’ president, for the first time.

China’s Zhou Guomei praised the Geneva meeting, called it a “successful conclusion” and urged delegates to continue working to build consensus. Other officials hailed an outcome on the sharing of species’ genetic resources.

However, some participants have called for greater ambition from China, which only twice took the floor in its capacity as president in 15 days of talks.

“They have been listening but we hope for more engagement and ambition,” Brian O’Donnell, the director of the Campaign for Nature told Reuters.

Some also voiced frustration about the lack of clarity on the Kunming summit timing as it faces a fourth delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organisers said on Tuesday it would take place in the third quarter, without giving a date.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment did not respond to a request for comment and Chinese officials in Geneva declined an interview request.

(Additonal reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai; editing by Barbara Lewis, Nick Macfie and Aurora Ellis)