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Germany's Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection Steffi Lemke and Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault applaud after the COP15 plenary meeting adopts a global biodiversity framework in Montreal, December 19, 2022.LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Delegates at COP15, the United Nations biodiversity conference in Montreal, reached a historic agreement in the early morning hours on Monday to boost prospects for the long-term survival of the natural world and those who depend on it.

If fully implemented, the newly adopted global biodiversity framework would guide conservation efforts through the end of the decade with the aim of seeing species and ecosystems recovering in all regions of the globe by mid-century.

“I see no objections. The package is adopted,” said Huang Runqiu, the conference president and China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment, around 3:30 a.m. after swiftly moving to adopt the document that had kept negotiators working late into the night.

The move sparked an outburst of cheers among delegates but it was also followed by strong expressions of disappointment from some African countries that said their concerns had been sidelined in the final rush to adopt the framework.

Mr. Huang replied that the adoption was consistent with the rules of the convention and that no formal objection had been made.

Over the past two weeks, representatives from 188 countries were involved in negotiating the agreement.

Included in the adopted framework is the requirement that countries work to conserve 30 per cent of the planet by 2030. The “30-by-30″ target is one that Canada, among several other countries, has pushed for at the talks. Scientists have called the target the minimum of what is needed to sustain a majority of Earth’s species.

“There has never been a conservation goal globally at that scale,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, a U.S.-based effort to advance the target. “This puts us within the chance of safeguarding biodiversity from collapse.”

But the agreement received mixed reviews from those who said it does not go far enough and leaves too much wiggle room for countries to put off strong action on conservation until years from now.

Compared with earlier drafts, the framework’s overarching goals now look to the year 2050 as the point by which ecosystems should be maintained, enhanced or restored and the extinction of species halted. Gone is any reference to intermediate steps along the way. This wording is distinct from the 30-by-30 target, which only refers to the amount of area set aside for conservation, not the overall results of conservation efforts.

“That’s the bad part,” said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of IPBES, the international scientific body whose reports on species and habitat loss inform the UN Convention on Biodiversity. “That’s certainly the result of political compromise.”

Dr. Larigauderie added that she was pleased to see that some of the specific targets in the draft had survived to the final document. Among them is the target of cutting the use of pesticides in half by 2030 in order to protect insect species that are vital for the pollination of food crops and other plants.

The entire framework includes 23 targets, which together are intended to conserve what remains of the world’s biodiversity, ensure it is used sustainably and equitably provide the means, including financial means, to realize those goals.

Included in the adopted text:

  • The 30-by-30 target, which applies to “terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas,” especially areas of high importance to global biodiversity;
  • An acknowledgement of the US$700-billion annual gap in the estimated cost of preserving nature globally versus the amount that is currently spent;
  • Targets to close the gap by reducing government subsidies that promote nature loss by at least US$500-billion annually and increasing expenditures by at least US$200-billion annually;
  • An increase in financing from wealthy countries to the developing world to aid in conservation efforts from US$10-billion to at least US$20-billion per year by 2025 and at least US$30-billion by 2030;
  • A recognition of the rights and role of Indigenous peoples in protecting nature globally;
  • A target that calls for legal and policy measures to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, including digital sequence information, that are derived from nature with a requirement that a “significant increase” in benefits shared be achieved by 2030.

The Montreal meeting, which began on December 6, has been billed as a once-in-a-decade opportunity for countries that are signatories to the UN Convention on Biodiversity to reach consensus on how to protect the natural world from a multitude of threats including destruction of habitat, over-harvesting, pollution and climate change.

Originally scheduled to take place in China, it was delayed two years by the pandemic. China retained the presidency of the conference but the location was changed to Montreal, where the secretariat of the convention is based, with Canada acting as host country.

Efforts to hammer out a workable framework proved slow going during much of the conference, with various versions of the proposed text loaded down with notes indicating points of disagreement.

By Thursday, parallel rounds of talks were underway between pairs of countries, including Canada and Egypt, Germany and Rwanda, and Norway and Chile, in an attempt to resolve differences on key issues between wealthy and developing countries.

Momentum for a deal began picking up on Sunday when China presented a new draft of the framework as the best option for consensus.

Dubbed the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the document received a generally positive but measured response from scientists and environmental groups, reflecting concerns that the new draft framework did not go far enough.

“I think it’s a very balanced text,” federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters on Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Guilbeault, who has been engaged in the high-level portion of the meeting since Thursday, said that while some countries were still pushing for changes to the draft, “I’ve heard a lot of support for the text that’s been presented.”

In the end, it took several hours more of behind-the-scenes wrangling before representatives were ready to meet in public and adopt the framework in the predawn hours.

Some at the meeting described the agreement as a starting point which, if implemented, would offer more protection for global biodiversity than any previous document has done, though not to the degree needed to be a gamechanger.

“To a certain extent, it is bringing everybody up to the best level of collective ambition possible,” said Eddy Perez, international climate diplomacy director for Climate Action Network Canada.

Mark Opel, finance lead with the Campaign for Nature, a global environmental coalition, called the US$20-billion and US$30-billion targets among the most consequential of the proposed agreement.

“Now we’ve got real numbers to talk about,” he said, while adding that the annual amount that experts say is needed by developing countries is at least US$60-billion.

Among the more poignant comments after adoption of the framework was a statement from Pierre Du Plessis, a representative of Namibia, who called the framework a finely balanced deal “which makes everyone equally unhappy.”

Expressing sympathy for his African counterparts who had voiced their disappointment, he said that the biodiversity crisis on that continent was part of a long legacy of abuse that could be traced back to colonialization, resources extraction and plantation agriculture.

He added that while the framework alone was not enough to put humanity in harmony with nature by 2050, he was happy that the framework was flexible enough to enable progress and learning toward that goal.

“We are very damaged,” he said. “Our relationship with the living world is in real serious danger and that endangers all life on this planet.”

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