COP15 "biodiversity", which several voices call to become the equivalent of COP21 for the climate, opens this Wednesday in Montreal.
In focus: the adoption of a new global framework for the 2020 decade for biodiversity.
Among the 21 targets appearing in the draft of this global framework, the third sets the objective of protecting 30% of the land and seas of the globe by 2030. It has a good chance of passing, a large coalition of States pushing for.
However, be careful not to make this “30x30” objective the only success criterion for this COP15.
Because the challenge is not only to protect more, but also better.
And there is the remaining 70% not to be left out.
“This is the target everyone is talking about,” observes Sébastien Treyer, director general of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).
The one that is likely to monopolize the attention in Montreal, where opens this Wednesday, until December 19, the COP15 “biodiversity”.
The crucial challenge will be to adopt a new global framework, for the 2020 decade, with a view to preserving biodiversity and ensuring its sustainable use.
Twenty-one targets are on the table.
Including the third, the one mentioned by Sébastien Treyer, which aims to protect at least 30% of seas and land by 2030. A similar target was already included in the twenty Aichi objectives, which formed the framework for the decade 2010. The aim was to place at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine and coastal areas under protected areas by 2020. Of the twenty objectives, this will be the only one relatively achieved.
Not just protect more, but better
This “biodiversity” COP15 must therefore take action on the next step, with this 30x30 objective.
That it does not appear in the final agreement that the 197 parties present will adopt would be a surprise.
“A large coalition, that of high ambition for nature and peoples, is pushing for, says Juliette Landry, researcher on international biodiversity governance at IDDRI”.
It has 130 countries, including France, which has set itself the goal of reaching 30% this year.
But the challenge is not only quantitative.
“Just as much as protecting more, we must also protect better,” insists Juliette Landry.
A way of saying that protected areas are not always effective.
How to define them already?
This is a first difficulty highlighted by Hélène Soubelet, director of the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB).
“The question may seem simple, but there is no international consensus on the status of a protected area and the way to protect it,” she explains, judging it unlikely that this COP15 will succeed.
The Spectrum of Paper Areas
Therefore, it will be up to each country to do this definition work, with the risk that this “30x30” objective will be achieved with a share of “paper areas”.
In other words, areas deemed ineffective in terms of their performance or the lack of resources allocated to them.
France is not immune to its empty shells.
The very term protected area covers a multitude of statuses with varying degrees of protection.
The list includes Natura 2000 areas. "A 2016 assessment by the National Museum of Natural History showed that, in the majority, these Natura 2000 areas were in a degraded state", indicated to
Denis Couvet, president of the FRB , in January 2021. For its part, in a December 2020 report, Océana estimated that 96% of European marine protected areas authorize destructive activities.
“70% of the 3,449 Natura 2000 MPAs assessed are affected by at least one major threat*, 80% in France”, specified the NGO.
Should a protected area worthy of the name put nature under glass, by prohibiting all or almost all economic activity there?
Not necessarily, replies Robin Goffaux.
The “biodiversity and agriculture” project manager at the FRB sets aside the hotspots of biodiversity in the world, which harbor a great wealth in this area but are seriously threatened by man.
"It seems necessary to place them under strong protection before it is too late," he says.
But these areas are not very large.
It would only be a small part of the 30x30.
For the rest, Robin Goffaux evokes the need for graduated responses.
"You have to know where to place the cursor between the preservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use," he summarizes.
Another imperative - often a factor in the success of a protected area - is to associate the indigenous populations and local communities in the management and to rely on their know-how and practices as long as they are sustainable.
Insert the criterion of effectiveness
The equation is not simple, but not impossible.
The Mamiraua sustainable development reserve, in the Brazilian Amazon, is thus a great success.
She is often cited as an example for having known how to combine science and traditional knowledge and obtained spectacular results, in particular on the pirarucu, a giant freshwater fish**.
We could cite others, says Robin Goffaux.
Not always duplicable, however, given the different contexts from one territory to be protected to another.
On the other hand, there is a common condition for success in any protected area project that the project manager underlines: that of ensuring the monitoring, over time, of its effectiveness.
An encouraging sign, this criterion of efficiency appears, for the moment, in target 3. Robin Goffaux sees in this the desire not only to worry about the volume of surface area protected in 2030 but also about their quality.
Another positive point: "To avoid repeating the mistake made for the 20 Aichi targets, the emphasis is placed much more on monitoring", he continues.
That is to say the need to have regular milestones, up to 2030, on how each country implements this new global framework.
Including therefore on their protected areas.
Don't forget the remaining 70%
But be careful not to focus too much on these protected areas.
It is a fear that we raise both at IDDRI and at the FRB: that the 30x30 becomes the totem objective put forward, forgetting the biodiversity issues on the remaining 70% of the globe.
“Several scientific publications have shown that, even in protected areas, there can be losses of biodiversity due to the unsustainable activities that are authorized around them”, recalls Hélène Soubelet.
It refers to the one that caused a stir when it was published in October 2017, estimating the drop in the number of insects in sixty protected natural areas in Germany at nearly 80%.
"I would almost prefer a slightly less ambitious agreement, with a 25% target for example, in exchange for major progress on the other targets, particularly those relating to agriculture", even says Sébastien Treyer.
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* Major Threat
** This fish, which can measure three meters and weigh more than 200 kg, had almost disappeared from the Amazon River in the 1990s, a victim of overfishing.
A management program involving local fishermen, who control the catches and redistribute the profits, has allowed pirarucu numbers to rise sharply.
“As well as the benefits for these local fishermen, adds Jean-Marc Fromentin, biologist at the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (Ifremer).
It has been so successful that this community-based management system has spread across the entire Amazon basin and involves around 100 local communities in Brazil and Peru.