You will no doubt remember that in December 2022, the COP15, the international conference on biological diversity. Biodiversity remains the poor relative of political and societal initiatives on the environment; she is inconspicuous despite his importance and current crisis which threatens the disappearance of more than a million species.
In Montreal, it was therefore essential to reach an agreement to stop this sixth extinction crisis. An urgency that is all the more pressing since the objectives of the agreements signed in Aïchi (Japan) in 2012, with the same purpose, had not been achieved.
Ahead of this COP, which will have welcomed the representatives of the 196 signatory States of the Convention on Biological Diversity, European observers and negotiators highlighted a few key measures that they hoped everyone would accept.
Move towards 30% protected areas on land and at sea, instead of the current almost 15 and 10%; intensify ecosystem restoration; promote the "nature-based solutions" ; reduce the use of polluting pesticides and fertilizers.
Negotiations also focused on the application of a fairness measure between holders (including traditional knowledge) and users of genetic sequences.
COP15, by mobilizing such a diversity of countries, cultures, political, legal or economic situations, had its share of difficulties.
Let us return, for example, to the key measure bringing protected areas to 30% of the earth's surface. Remember that it is a question of leaving the ecosystems locally follow (relatively) spontaneous trajectories to benefit from the replenishment of local populations of organisms, the improvement of expected services, or even enrichment of biodiversity by spillover into adjacent areas.
Some warned about thescandalous eviction of indigenous peoples when setting up these protected areas. Many countries of the South were against it, finding the measure too costly and too restrictive, given their geographical specificities. This measure is often perceived as an injunction from rich countries having already devastated their environment.
Another example concerns the very concept of "nature-based solutions", promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This measure, almost unanimously approved by scientists, has unfortunately often been overused by climate measures that do not respect the integrity of ecosystems.
For example, we plant exotic trees hundreds of thousands to pretend to store carbon and regulate the climate, instead of promoting the regeneration of local forest ecosystems, rich, balanced and with really multiple benefits in the long term.
What can we learn from the 23 targets of the global agreement?
The proportions of protected areas have indeed been increased to 30% on land and at sea. On this occasion, the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities have been reaffirmed, recognizing that the territories managed using traditional knowledge (approximately 8% land surface) become de facto protected areas.
Other important targets: reach 30% of areas of restored ecosystems outside protected areas; aim for a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides; open access to the use of molecular sequence data on genetic resources, an essential initiative to guarantee "open science" and to prevent the plundering of these resources by private interests.
It is also planned, but without details on the means to be implemented, to reduce the introduction of invasive alien species by half by 2030; remember that this is one of the main causes of the decline in biodiversity.
The ocean and agriculture, two blind spots
The final agreement presents less good aspects. For example, the subject of the oceans was very little discussed there, pending the negotiation on the protected areas in international waters which seems to have finally succeeded, subject to actual application by the States. Above all, all 23 targets of the final agreement represent significant implementation costs for many countries.
The Global Environment Facility, dedicated to financing these costs, does not satisfy everyone ; it must also be adapted to the measurement of the objectives. States, like France, have promised to do so, others less or not.
There are also no quantified targets for reducing the ecological footprint or respecting planetary boundaries.
Another problematic point is agriculture, which is expected to evolve either in "sustainable intensification" or in agroecology; the first concept is particularly vague while the second has, in the final text, a broader dimension than that admitted in Europe in particular. The production of farmed meat – a major environmental issue – is virtually absent from the agreement, even if certain objectives (protected areas, restoration, reduction of pesticides, etc.) can contribute to more reasoned action in this area.
As for the relationship of biodiversity with the climate (mitigation), it is mentioned without quantified or dated objectives.
As we can see, the transformation of our industrial food production systems, which is essential in the eyes of scientists and synthesized by IPBES in 2019, is not about to be heavily constrained…
But let's remember: even if the COP agreements are not legally binding (and if they were, it would still be necessary to transcribe their provisions into the law of each country), these international summits on biodiversity have the great benefit to bring together 196 countries, to allow them to measure and reduce their disagreements, and therefore to try to find common political solutions.
They also have the advantage of making measures and indicators public, quantified in the best of cases, and application schedules. Withdrawing and not respecting such agreements is disorderly; we will remember the Paris agreements on the climate, the US exit scandal and the hidden retreats of certain countries, including France. Without COP, all of this would remain invisible.
To be continued in the coming months
The next important step will be the publication of national biodiversity policies in the coming months.
For France, it will be a question of paying attention to the publication of the highly anticipated 2023 version of the National biodiversity strategy.
This strategy published by the government lists the indicators of the state of biodiversity and explains the actions to be taken. It is formed by discussion with metropolitan and overseas territories, scientists, associations, advisory bodies, services and State operators. The advantage of the approach is to collectively engage the stakeholders to act.
Its disadvantage is to constrain the development of this strategy by the participation of parties potentially presenting strong conflicts of interest with regard to the implementation of an environmental transition. In the end and for this reason, the developed strategy can be set back in relation to France's international commitments and in relation to precise, binding and operational objectives that should be set.
The danger of such a situation is obvious: in addition to the lack of progress, which is essential on the environmental level in a situation of crisis and emergency, a unambitious and unrestrictive strategy undermine society's confidence in the effectiveness of the negotiations undertaken and the modes of mediation and political governance.
Let's say it again: the COPs are essential, but they are not enough on their own. States must transcribe and monitor the commitments they have negotiated and accepted.
Philippe Grandcolas, CNRS research director, systematist, director of the Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity (ISYEB), National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) et Martine Hossaert, Research Director, Evolutionary Ecology, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.