(Bloomberg) — A global biodiversity summit put together by the United Nations got off to a bumpy start in Montreal on Tuesday, with organizers chastising delegates for failing to compromise on small changes needed to create a draft for environment ministers to debate next week.
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COP15, as the summit is known, is the most important gathering on biodiversity in a decade. The goal is to create a Paris Agreement-style roadmap to protect enough of the world’s key ecosystems and slow climate change.
The two-week meeting started with a speech from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “We are treating nature like a toilet, and ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy,” he warned in his remarks, calling on delegates from nearly 200 nations to establish a framework “that beats back the biodiversity apocalypse by urgently tackling its drivers — land and sea-use change, over exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive nonnative species.”
READ MORE: Five Things to Watch at the UN Biodiversity Summit
As speeches marked the start of formal proceedings, there was squabbling on the sidelines. A push over the weekend to streamline diplomatic language in a draft agreement, by removing brackets around unsettled phrases, had come up short by by Monday night. The opening press conference on Tuesday morning came and went without progress.
“Words that are being bandied about are actually very much similar. Let’s just settle on some of these things,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program. “Because when the gavel goes down, and the day is done, what will be remembered is not the complexity around a word. What will be remembered is the level of ambition, and the implementation, that followed.”
Decisions at COP15 must be made by consensus of all nations that signed on to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity nearly three decades ago. The US is one of the few nations not to have ratified the convention. The summit is hosted by China, even though it’s taking place in Canada because of pandemic restrictions.
One of the top goals of the summit is to lock down a commitment to protect 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030. Support from the financial sector is key. A funding gap of $700 billion a year needs to be closed by 2030 and “trillions of dollars” of spending needs to include biodiversity goals, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
“We are really concerned that financing could be the issue that derail these negotiations at the end,” said Florian Titze, policy advisor and responsible for the financing negotiations at the World Wildlife Fund.
One big question mark is Brazil’s stance, according to people familiar with the talks. So far negotiators have seemed heavily guided by the vision of outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro, especially on the Amazon rainforest, and it’s not clear to what extent the goals of President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be represented at COP15.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will invest C$350 million ($256 million) in biodiversity around the world, and in his opening speech he asked every national leader to instruct their negotiators to commit to the “30 by 30” target.
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