UN summit aims to stop global species extinctions

STORY: A U.N. summit opening this week in Montreal is aimed at protecting worldwide ecosystems and averting potential mass extinctions of global wildlife.

Negotiators from nearly every nation and thousands of organizations hope that the two-week summit, known as COP15, yields a deal that ensures there is more "nature" — animals, plants, and healthy ecosystems — in 2030 than what exists now.

But how that progress is pursued and measured will need to be agreed by all 196 governments under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

"A key goal of COP15 is for the nations of the world to agree to protect more of the land and more of the ocean."

Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation at Duke University.

“COP15 is important because the biggest irreversible change to our planet is that we are driving species to extinction, a thousand times faster than they should be going extinct. Unlike climate change, which is bad enough, you know, if you lose species, you can never get them back."

According to a 2022 U.N. Global Land Outlook assessment, more than one million species are now threatened with extinction, vanishing at a rate not seen in 10 million years. As much as 40% of Earth's land surfaces are considered degraded.

Suesan Lieberman is the vice president for international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“What I don't want is in ten years to say, ‘Well, that one failed. Let's try again.’ We can't afford that. Humanity can't afford that, and nature can't afford that. A lot of ecosystems are at the tipping point. Any more destruction and they can never recover.”

Overall, the U.N. hopes to persuade all countries to pledge to put at least 30% of their land and sea areas under conservation by 2030 – a target often referred to as the "30-by-30" goal. Currently, only about 17% of the world's land area falls under some sort of protection, while less than 8% of the global ocean is protected.

But negotiators said the draft deal is still riddled with bracketed phrases – indicating a lack of agreement and ongoing discussion on hundreds of points. Some of toughest areas include how to ensure poor nations will have the funding needed to restore degraded areas, whether to include efforts to curb climate-warming emissions, and whether to impose a deadline for phasing out pesticides.

“What I would like to see coming out of COP15 is that we agree to be a protector of nature rather than an abuser of nature."

More than 10,000 participants, including government officials, scientists, and activists, were set to attend the summit starting Wednesday and running through Dec. 19.