A global agreement to protect a significant portion of the world's land and water will be reached in time for the end of COP15 in Montreal, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault predicted Sunday.

The Canadian minister spoke on the eve of the last official day of the conference as negotiators worked on a proposed agreement that would include funding provisions totalling several hundred billion dollars.

Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu presented the draft text of an agreement Sunday morning that would protect at least 30 per cent of the world's land and marine areas by 2030.

China is officially chairing COP15 and as such is overseeing the negotiations. The meeting itself was moved to Canada because of restrictions against COVID-19 in that country. Montreal was chosen in large part because the secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is based in the city.

The draft agreement calls for 30 per cent of terrestrial, coastal, marine and inland water areas, especially those important for biodiversity and ecosystems, to be protected by 2030.

If ratified, countries would commit to raising at least $200 billion annually from public and private sources to fund nature conservation. They would also promise to reduce subsidies that undermine nature conservation by at least $500 billion by 2030.

Steven Guilbault

The draft text comes after nearly two weeks of negotiations among 196 nations that are part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Throughout the conference, delegates argued for an accord to stop the human destruction of nature and to start restoring what has already been lost.

The United Nations says that three-quarters of the world's land has been altered by human activities and that one million species are at risk of disappearing this century.

Guilbeault told reporters that some countries were looking for “adjustments” to the proposed text. However, he added that many others have expressed their approval of the proposal.

He expects an agreement to be reached by Monday. He compared its potential importance to the Paris Accord on climate change signed in 2015.

“Six months ago, we didn't even know if the COP would happen this year, let alone an agreement on biodiversity. I truly believe we're headed for that,' he said.

The draft agreement aims to strike a balance between countries calling for more ambitious targets and developing nations insisting on financial assistance to meet those targets, delegates and observers said.

The new text also proposes that developed countries commit at least $20 billion a year to emerging countries by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030.

Colombia's environment minister, Maria Susana Muhamad Gonzalez, would like to see those amounts range from $30 billion to $100 billion per year.

She noted that there is broad consensus on many issues, including the goal of protecting 30 per cent of the planet, and the restoration of degraded areas.

“I am very optimistic. The main goals have been proposed and there is no general opposition to them,” she said. “We have taken a big step in the right direction.”

Maria Susana Muhamad Gonzalez

Virginijus Sinkevicus, the European Commission's Commissioner for the Environment, believes that the text represents a good compromise, calling it “a solid document” that delegates can build upon.

However, he also lamented the lack of a numerical target on issues such as protecting species at risk of extinction from human activities by 2050, as well as the protection of local wildlife.

“We are more ambitious on resource mobilization, but we have no numbers for Goal A. This is a very serious problem for the framework we want to adopt for 2030,” Sinkevicus said.

Other objectives outlined in the draft agreement include reducing the negative impacts of pollution and invasive species and publicizing the effects of business activities on biodiversity.

Representatives of environmental and civil society groups praised the financial and conservation objectives of the proposal. However, they said it fell short of their expectations on other issues.

According to Brian O'Donnell, Director of Campaign for Nature, the text would represent “the world's largest commitment to biodiversity conservation” if adopted as such. He particularly praised the inclusion of Indigenous collaboration.

“This could be the beginning of a new era of conservation in which the rights and leadership of Indigenous peoples are included,” he said.

Eddy Perez of Climate Action Network Canada described the proposed agreement as “ambitious.” He says such an agreement could put pressure on developed countries for funding.

China is telling the world that if we want more ambitious action on biodiversity internationally, we will have to put more resources into it," he said.

He believes the funding proposal sets the bar "really high, at a level that even developed countries did not expect," but the amount is less than what some developing states were demanding.

Perez also criticized the draft for not including measurable targets for areas at risk of extinction by 2030. He also notes that there is no commitment to reduce the use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. 

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 18, 2022