At COP15, U.S. is pushing key nature goals from the sidelines
Monica Medina, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs speaks at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on November 7, 2022. U.S. Embassy Cairo/Maged Helal/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation
What’s the context?
The United States wants a key role at COP15 biodiversity talks in Montreal and to go beyond the 30 by 30 nature protection pledge
- U.S biodiversity envoy attending COP15 talks in Montreal
- Having backed 30 by 30 goal, U.S. wants others to follow
- New legislation to tackle deforestation not ruled out
The United States will help other nations achieve a key pledge of an anticipated new global nature pact - to protect at least 30% of the planet's land and seas by 2030, Washington's top biodiversity envoy said.
While the United States has never formally joined the 1992 U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), it hopes its support for the "30 by 30" goal will drive more ambitious efforts to protect nature among about 195 member countries gathered in Montreal to finalise a nature protection deal.
The draft pledge has gained support from more than 110 nations, including the United States.
"We are very interested in seeing the 30 by 30 framework adopted and in supporting other countries in achieving those goals," Monica Medina, U.S. special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, said in an interview ahead of the COP15 nature talks in Canada.
"We do need to aim for something that we think is achievable - and if we build on that success perhaps we can get even farther," she said, highlighting a 50% by 2050 protection target put forward by some scientists.
People around the world depend on nature, from oceans to wilderness, to supply them with clean air and water - and to regulate rainfall that is vital for growing food crops.
And because plants absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide to grow, strengthening conservation efforts is widely seen as one of the cheapest and most effective ways to slow climate change.
But forests and other ecosystems are still being destroyed, often to expand agriculture and production of commodities such as palm oil, soy and beef, to feed a growing global population.
Medina said the world is waking up to the fact that it needs to better account for the costs of losing nature.
The United States is taking the 30 by 30 target "very seriously", and it is backed by President Joe Biden, she said.
Medina cited the launch last year of the locally-led, decade-long America the Beautiful conservation program - but said coast and ocean efforts were lagging land-based initiatives.
Also domestically, Medina said the government would use national park funding as part of its biodiversity and 30 by 30 drive, and was seeking to develop accounting systems that look at the value of nature to the economy, and how to garner investment in it.
Internationally, the United States will use climate funding to promote biodiversity conservation, and promote 30 by 30 through its membership of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and via "coalitions of governments", she added.
"Up until now, we've seen nature not properly valued and that has caused a tremendous amount of economic costs that are not recouped very easily," Medina added.
'Do our best'
The United States does not play a formal role in CBD talks but Medina is due to travel to Montreal.
Her appointment in September to the newly-created diplomatic role was seen by green groups as a sign of the nation's commitment to tackling climate change and conserving nature.
Charles Barber, a senior biodiversity advisor at the World Resources Institute, said that despite never having ratified the CBD, the United States' development agencies are among the largest donors to nature conservation in developing countries.
At the COP26 climate summit last year, President Biden pledged $9 billion in tropical forest and other critical ecosystems funding by 2030.
In 2020, USAID, the country's development agency, said it worked in nearly 60 countries around the world to conserve biodiversity, fight conservation crime, and support sustainable fisheries.
The international development agency invested about $314 million that year to conserve biodiversity.
Barber estimated that the United States had provided about $4-$5 billion in grant aid explicitly for biodiversity conservation in developing countries over the past two decades.
The U.S. delegation "works quietly but effectively behind the scenes with like-minded countries in CBD negotiations, and also has close relationships with many of the NGOs most involved in the negotiations", Barber added.
Barber cited Washington's lobbying for the 30 by 30 goal and its support and membership of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Medina said ratifying the U.N. biodiversity convention was in the hands of the U.S. Senate, but that the country would nonetheless work with allies and do its "best to implement the (biodiversity) framework".
The need for greater funding to help developing and nature-rich countries meet the goals of any new biodiversity deal has been a sticking point in negotiations in recent years.
Medina stressed how important it was to attract private investment for biodiversity conservation.
As well, the costs of nature losses need to become part of economic accounting for governments and businesses so "we don't end up in a situation where we have a degraded environment and no way to bring it back", she said.
Earlier this week, the European Union become the world's first trading bloc to agree on a law to prevent companies from selling several commodities - including palm oil, soy and beef - linked to deforestation.
Medina said the Biden administration was examining what similar powers it might have to tackle the problem, including potentially proposing legislation or executive action on the issue.
"Are we concerned? Yes. Do we have our next steps all set yet? No, not yet - but we are studying the problem," she added.
(Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Laurie Goering.)
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