The recent COP15 UN Biodiversity Summit resulted in almost 200 countries signing an agreement that will protect a large part of the planet. We dive into the details.

In December, delegates at the COP15 UN Biodiversity Summit in Montreal were treated to a curious sight. Standing in the main conference centre was The Voice of Nature, a five-metre-tall robotic plant that appeared to grow or wilt at intervals throughout the event. Created by ecological artist Thijs Biersteker, the artwork was in fact reacting to decisions taken at the summit – flourishing with positive news and wilting with negative.

Using real-time data from the Natural History Museum, the plant was a monument to the importance of the choices made about the future of the planet, a physical reminder for the key decision-makers that the outcomes of the Summit will have long-term consequences for nature and biodiversity.

“This is such a powerful installation because it brings home the impact of the decisions being made in Montreal,” said Dr Adriana De Palma, Biodiversity Researcher at the Natural History Museum. “Complex scientific data is made simple via this single seedling which has the ability to deliver heart-warming or heart-wrenching news.”

30% protection by 2030

Delayed for two years by the pandemic, there was a lot of expectation placed on COP15, with the hope that the gathering of representatives of 196 countries could result in a new Paris Agreement-style deal for saving wildlife, plants and habitats. With report after report detailing the increasing loss of animal and plant species, and the alarming impact of climate change, such a deal couldn’t come too soon.

And at 3.30am on Monday 19 December, there was jubilation and relief when a historic deal was signed that has the potential to halt the destruction of nature and protect a significant part of the planet. Negotiated over two weeks, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework includes targets to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade, reform $500bn (£410bn) of environmentally damaging subsidies, and restore 30% of the planet’s degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems.

The role of local communities

Of course, historic deals are only successful if their outcomes deliver on their promise, but with the COP15 agreement, there seems to be a renewed sense of optimism about halting the destruction of biodiversity and reversing climate change. Within the agreement, indigenous people are mentioned a number of times, highlighting the fact that they are the best groups to look after nature – something World Land Trust (WLT) have known for decades.

The environmental charity protects the world’s most biologically significant habitats by funding the creation of reserves to provide permanent protection for habitats and wildlife. An essential part of their work is partnering with local communities and employing local people as rangers to keep the land protected from developers and poachers while working to restore degraded habitats.

Since WLT began in 1989, the charity has directly funded 2.4 million acres of land, which has allowed its partners around the world to leverage further funding to preserve over 5.5 million acres. In total, the organisation has 34 partners, which has resulted in the preservation of over 25 million acres – an area the size of Iceland.

It’s an approach that’s been successful not only for the local communities, but biodiversity in general – something the world’s decision-makers would do well to replicate. “We need to change the relationship between people and nature,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN environment programme, speaking at COP15. “We’ve backed nature into a corner and it’s time to ease the pressure. We also know it is a remarkable thing and nature is very forgiving. If we give it half a chance, it will bounce back. Let’s not pause for a second. Embrace the history we have made in Montreal and let’s get down to the business of delivering the framework.”

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