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100 Countries Sign Biodiversity Protection Pledge

More than 100 countries have signed on to the Kunming Declaration at the UN Biodiversity Summit, but onlookers are unsure if the pledge has teeth, or whether host country China will honour its promise to lead the charge.

The Kunming document “calls for ‘urgent and integrated’ steps to tackle decreasing biodiversity around the world, with particular emphasis on how many sectors of the global economy have contributed to a dangerous decrease in habitats and species over the past century,” reports Deutsche Welle.

The declaration “sets forward general ambitions for biodiversity protection, but does not address lingering questions about implementation or further commitments from governments in attendance,” reports Greenpeace, which also provides a link to the full text of the document.

Some experts note that China sidestepped opportunities to stake out clear action targets in the declaration. Although the document does mention the United Nations’ call for countries to conserve 30% of their territory by 2030, it stops short of expressing support for the target, which is a major component of the international plan to protect the environment.

“The Kunming Declaration gives us a hint on China’s leadership style. The declaration made a reference to the 30 by 30 target, but did not indicate if Beijing is onboard with it or not,” Greenpeace East Asia Senior Climate Advisor Li Shuo told DW. 

The 30% pledge may be especially difficult for China, which is already stressed for land and has conserved only 18% of its territory to date, reports Reuters. But experts say fundamental problems lie in using a “one size fits all” approach to promote conservation. For example, the 30% target could allow countries like Brazil and Indonesia to go forward with more deforestation while China struggles with the target.

Although the Kunming Declaration is an important step for addressing the ongoing loss of plant and animal species at a rate not seen for 10 million years, history indicates that a pledge of commitment may not be enough to prompt action, writes DW. For instance, none of the 2020 targets listed in a similar declaration issued at a summit in Japan in 2010 were met.

Still, some commentors say the Kunming Declaration could spur global efforts.

“Yesterday’s commitment to fund biodiversity protection at a larger scale could be the impetus others need to direct finance toward protecting biodiversity,” Li Shuo said. “But much remains to be seen on whether Beijing can spearhead a delicate multilateral process.”

The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) welcomed the declaration’s recognition of the role of Indigenous Peoples in conserving biodiversity, restating the need for ongoing dialogue about conservation on traditional lands and territories, writes the Forest People’s Programme. 

“However, IIFB calls on the parties to the convention to recognize the rights and contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities beyond protected areas and area-based conservation,” said IIFB Co-Chair Lucy Mulenkei. “Any recognition and/or designation of our lands and territories must be subject to the self-identification, self-determination, self-governance, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”