By Emma Farge
GENEVA – Hundreds of negotiators arrived in the Swiss city of Geneva on Monday for final U.N. talks on an ambitious pact that aims to halt and reverse the loss of habitats for endangered species ahead of a summit in China later this year.
The in-person talks are the first time negotiators from some 164 countries have met in two years due to COVID risks. They are seen as the last chance to thrash out details of the “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” to help protect species thought to be going extinct at the fastest rate in 10 million years.
However, the discussions risk being overshadowed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Russian and Ukrainian delegates sparred in the opening session and several other Western countries condemned Russia’s actions in their opening speeches.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine is also an attack on the environment,” Ukraine’s deputy ambassador Oleksandre Kapustin said, citing the dangers of a radiation leak as well as damage to parks for endangered species during the invasion.
Russian delegate Marina Velikanova rejected those assertions as “false and irrelevant” to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Neither country sent a representative from their capitals due to the violence, instead sending diplomats already in Switzerland.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to the negotiations and the final summit in Kunming, China where the deal is meant to be ratified has been delayed several times from the original date of October 2020. U.N. officials told Reuters it is likely to be delayed again beyond April 2022.
At the centre of the talks is a call by the United Nations for countries to protect and conserve 30% of their territory by 2030 – a target known as “30 by 30″.
Negotiators are also aiming to increase funding for protected areas as well as reforms to agriculture subsidies which are seen as a major cause of biodiversity loss.
CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema conceded in her opening statement that negotiators would be “working in the shadow of a global pandemic and military conflict”. However, she called on them to “demonstrate through your actions the power of international cooperation and multilateralism”.