COP15: UN warns of the cost of ‘humanity treating nature like a toilet’

The UN secretary-general warned that humanity was “treating nature like a toilet” and that the degradation of the ecosystem would cost the world $3tn annually by 2030, as the COP15 biodiversity summit kicked off in Montreal.

“The loss of nature and biodiversity comes with a steep human cost,” said António Guterres in a speech on Tuesday. “A cost we measure in lost jobs, hunger, disease and deaths.”

The UN chief took aim at both governments and companies, saying that tax subsidies and investment from the respective sectors were needed to break away “from nature-destroying activities towards green solutions”.

The gathering in Montreal aims to mirror its sister climate conference COP27, which took place in Egypt last month, but with a focus on the damage to nature.

Heated negotiations over funding are expected, similar to the demands at over the “loss and damage” suffered by poor countries from the effects of global warming as had overshadowed the UN climate summit.

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told the Financial Times that he expected “very difficult discussions . . . because of issues regarding funding”.

“Pooling financial resources is one of the main challenges especially when you have this situation of war and economic struggle around the globe,” Sinkevičius said.

A key goal for the biodiversity COP is to reach an agreement to stop damage to natural ecosystems and conserve 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea habitats by 2030.

But leading participants are concerned that progress could be held up unless richer countries pledge more funds. The UN Environment Programme last week said that investments in nature-based solutions needed to double to an estimated $384bn by 2025.

In particular, “the private sector must significantly increase investment from current levels”, it said, given the constraints on public budgets.

“The biodiversity crisis is happening because industrialised nations have developed so much of their land,” said Nico Muzi, managing director of sustainable food non-government organisation Madre Brava. “Other nations can’t be penalised because they haven’t developed theirs.”

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius expected difficult discussions © Ronald Wittek/EPA/Shutterstock

The EU has pledged €7bn towards biodiversity conservation between 2021 and 2027, but only a handful of the 27 member states have followed suit.

According to OECD figures, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark are the only EU countries to have publicly promised more funding for biodiversity-related programmes since 2020.

Sinkevičius said he was “absolutely” pushing more member states to increase their pledges but noted that making the argument for nature restoration was more difficult than for climate finance when Europe was struggling with energy security and costs.

“It’s more difficult, to be honest, because we are talking not about limiting CO₂ emissions and knowing exactly what the values [are] . . . Here we are talking in very difficult terms of . . . whose forest is more valuable? Is it a wolf or a tiger that has the more value? So it’s a very complex and difficult discussion.”

The EU is in the middle of finalising complex negotiations on regulations to limit the impact of the bloc’s consumption on global ecosystems.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, EU lawmakers finally agreed rules that will ban the sale of products such as soy, palm oil and rubber in the bloc unless they are proven not to have contributed to deforestation, one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss.

An area larger than the EU was lost to deforestation between 1990 and 2020, according to estimates from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and consumption in the EU was a main contributor.

Muzi said that despite some “clumsy concessions”, such as postponing the inclusion of wooded savannah land in the rules, the law now gave the EU credibility to persuade the US and China “to follow suit”.

Sinkevičius said that the EU’s new regulation “very clearly sends the message that we are taking responsibility for our actions”.

But negotiations could be expected to run over time for the two-week long COP15, he added, and that he was maintaining “realistic” expectations for any agreement.

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