COP15, the UN Biodiversity Summit in Montreal - what was agreed and what does it mean for our ocean?

COP15, the UN Biodiversity Summit, has just come to a close in Montreal, and the good news is that a framework was agreed to halt nature loss, and recover biodiversity that has already been destroyed.

Biodiversity is the variation within and between species, the bedrock upon which our planet’s life support systems rely, the species responsible for the air we breathe and the food we eat. The biodiversity summit in Montreal was focussed on restoring biodiversity, and the health of nature as a whole, globally, through agreement between all involved countries and states.


But what was agreed, and what does this mean for our seas?


The following paragraph is taken from the COP15 website:

By 2030: Protect 30% of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, inland waters; Reduce by $500 billion annual harmful government subsidies; Cut food waste in half

Among the global targets for 2030:

 Effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans, with emphasis on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services. The GBF prioritizes ecologically-representative, well-connected and equitably-governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation, recognizing indigenous and traditional territories and practices. Currently 17% and 10% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas respectively are under protection.

• Have restoration completed or underway on at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems

• Reduce to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity

• Cut global food waste in half and significantly reduce over consumption and waste generation

• Reduce by half both excess nutrients and the overall risk posed by pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals

• Progressively phase out or reform by 2030 subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity’s conservation and sustainable use

• Mobilize by 2030 at least $200 billion per year in domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from all sources – public and private

• Raise international financial flows from developed to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and countries with economies in transition, to at least US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030

• Prevent the introduction of priority invasive alien species, and reduce by at least half the introduction and establishment of other known or potential invasive alien species, and eradicate or control invasive alien species on islands and other priority sites

• Require large and transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity through their operations, supply and value chains and portfolios

You can read the full report here:

So what does this mean for our ocean?

Currently less than 2.5% of our seas globally are highly protected from damaging fishing and mining activity. It’s worth mentioning at this point that not all Marine Protection is equal in its ability to protect fragile ocean habitats and species: In the UK, for example, many Marine Protected Areas  (MPAs) still allow destructive practices such as bottom trawling or dredging, which severely abrades the seabed. Many of the UK’s MPAs have been accused of being just ‘paper parks’.

Here is where our voices come in – we need to hold our government to account to properly protect 30% of our ocean by 2030. These can’t just be empty words – our health and the health of our blue planet relies on it.

Why does it matter?

Protecting our seas is a no-brainer. Most areas of the ocean don’t require complex rewilding plans, they just need to protected from damaging human activity, namely fishing and mining (although other activities that create noise and pollution also need to be carefully considered.) The recovery of our seas is the recovery of all of our health – the ocean produces the oxygen in every second breath we breathe, has already absorbed 25% of our anthropogenic carbon emissions, and continues to provide sources of ‘blue carbon’ – locking away the carbon we emit. It makes economic sense too, for the above reasons, and because protected areas of ocean are more productive, helping to restock fisheries outside of protected areas, known as the ‘spillover effect’. Public and inter-country pressures have had a profound effect on this framework: The world is waking up to the value of nature for both economic recovery and for our wellbeing.

One of the goals, to “safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and recognise their contributions as stewards of nature” is particularly important. Indigenous peoples globally are stewards of 80% of the world’s biodiversity – their role in maintaining an inhabitable planet for all of us cannot be underestimated. Recognising and honouring this is vital.

Many are understandably dubious of promises made at COPs – if the climate summits over the last few years are anything to go by, targets are regularly missed. It’s not unreasonable to expect that some of the targets of this COP, which are not legally binding, may also be missed. But there is hope in the developing movement towards protecting nature, the dedication of some governments around the world and the ensuing pressure that this puts onto other governments, public support for nature protection, and an ever increasing appreciation of the economic and social value of protecting nature. Now more than ever we need to continue to use our voices for our seas, and here at Seaful we feel as passionately and determinedly as ever to help more people find a connection to our ocean, so that they too can become its stewards.

You can learn more about marine protection in the links below:

The Our Seas campaign in Scotland is calling for the reintroduction of highly protected areas around the whole coast of Scotland to protect the most fragile and vital habitats. You can learn more and add your voice to the campaign below:

For more information about Blue Carbon and Biodiversity, head to Seaful founder Cal Major’s blogs below:

Last but not least, for a great podcast about biodiversity and climate change, with a focus on the recent COP15 event, here is one of the BBC World Service’s Climate Question episodes: