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Hallelujah, we have a deal! (Kind of)

196 countries, two intense weeks of negotiations and a mission to halt and reverse the devastating decline of nature. As thousands of delegates flocked to Montreal for the biggest biodiversity talks of the decade, the world watched on tenterhooks as the dramatic negotiation process unfolded. 

By Sarah Brady and Christopher Sands

Header image: BirdLife also announced the Americas Flyways Initiative during the conference, an innovative alliance that will benefit thousands of migratory birds © Kenneth Kiefer/Shutterstock

As Montreal native Leonard Cohen sings so powerfully, Hallelujah indeed. 196 countries, two intense weeks of negotiations and a mission to halt and reverse the devastating decline of nature. As thousands of delegates flocked to Montreal for the biggest biodiversity talks of the decade, the world (at least the world that cares about nature) watched on tenterhooks as negotiations lurched precariously from one sticky subject to the next.

It was a dramatic few weeks, with delegates walking out of negotiations and political tensions building between the Global North and Global South, all amidst a backdrop of earnest calls for action from a plethora of civil society organisations.

There is much to commend about the deal itself, with the final appearance of the long sought after goal of protecting 30% of lands and seas by 2030 (30X30), the inclusion of Indigenous and local community rights as custodians of nature and an ambition to reduce extinction rates (see Patricia Zurita’s, CEO of BirdLife International, reaction here). Yet sadly there is much left to be desired. It is all very well saying these nice words and agreeing that protecting nature is important. But as we know from the bitter experience of no country meeting the previous 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, nice words mean absolutely nothing without the follow up action to turn them into reality.

It is terrifying to think that the survival of life on Earth hangs on these positive pledges and the good will of governments to do what they say they will. Without any measurable targets or time frames we all know how that is likely to work out … as Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Chief Scientist pointed out “The Goals lack any 2030 milestones, so there are no defined biodiversity outcomes to be achieved by the end of the decade, which is very disappointing.”

After two intense weeks, we finally have a Global Biodiversity Framework. In the words of the late, great Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”
A wide range of members from the BirdLife family worked tirelessly to push for an ambitious deal

With such high stakes and disheartening outcomes, it’s easy to become overly cynical about whether anything will actually change. However, one overwhelmingly positive element of Cop15 was the way in which large, international NGOs came together with grassroots organisations to present a united front. Their reactions to the deal have been optimistic, with Andrew Deutz – Director of Global Policy, Institutions and Conservation Finance for the Nature Conservancy- calling it a “historic result for nature”, his words echoed by WWF’s CEO Marco Lambertini who described the deal as “a win for people and planet”.

Despite this, they also noted concern over the lack of measurable goals, joining Patricia Zurita who warned that “Without a concrete road map and verifiable timelines, we could be taking more steps back than forward.” We cannot be hoodwinked into believing that nature is now saved after the, albeit nice, words from the Kunming-Montreal deal. Instead, it’s vital that these are used as the foundation for governments to push ahead with the transformative change our natural world needs, and that they are held to account in achieving this.

During Cop15, two BirdLife Partner-led projects were recognised as World Restoration Flagships, one in South America’s Atlantic forest and one on the Steppe Grasslands of Kazakhstan © Adrian Z/Shutterstock

As the largest Global Partnership for nature, BirdLife International will be ramping up our own advocacy efforts, mobilising civil society in every region of the world. With the recent launch of our exciting new flyways projects, we will continue pushing for the right to a healthy environment and protecting critical conservation areas for the millions of birds and people who rely on them.

With thousands of people marching for a deal that protects rights and nature in Montreal, we need to build on the momentum of Cop15, forge new alliances across all sectors and make sure that the words in the Kunming-Montreal deal do not remain yet another round of empty promises, but instead become the guidebook of transformational change the world so desperately needs.

The BirdLife family, present in over 115 local and indigenous communities around the globe, work on the frontline of conservation with all of our heart and soul like so many other brothers and sisters on planet earth. We attend these conferences with so many thirsting for change, bringing our science and hard-won conservation experience to the table to inform their outcomes. We have devoted our lives to the health of our planet – our communities represent tens of millions of people.  Yes we have a vested interest. Our vested interest is very simple – our survival as a planet seemingly unique in the universe, our survival as part of the diversity of nature that takes one’s breath away, our survival as a species. Humanity, with gifts, compassion, love, music, art, families, –   can we accept being so craven and shortsighted to fail at this critical moment in our existence?  We say no, we say rise up – demand and implement change NOW.

BirdLife joined forces with other leading conservation organisations to push for the change our planet so desperately needs