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The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, or COP15, came to a dramatic end early this morning, with a final agreement that will see 30% of Earth’s land and sea protected by 2030.

“We have 30 by 30,” said Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, a former climate protester. “Six months ago, who would have thought we could get 30 by 30 in Montreal? We have an agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to work on restoration, to reduce the use of pesticides. This is tremendous progress.”

China, which holds the presidency at this conference because it was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming in 2020, proved to be a forceful co-host at the event in Canada. The presidency pushed the agreement through despite protest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) about the responsibility of rich nations to fund conservation in poorer countries. The DRC’s statements were judged to not be a ‘formal objection’, causing consternation among some negotiators. “Legally, it’s done. Morally, what can I say? It’s over,” said Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister.

The dispute highlights the gulf between good intentions and the hard work yet to come, says Natasha Gilbert, who is reporting at the conference for Nature. “Will this undermine the integrity of the framework?” she asks. “It’s all very well pushing a document through, but what really matters is how it is implemented.”

Nevertheless, the feeling among scientists is optimistic. They welcome a historic agreement, which at times felt nigh-on impossible to achieve. It has created, for the first time, biodiversity targets on par with the momentous 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set a crucial goal to to limit global warming to 1.5–2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Flora Graham, Senior Editor, Nature Briefing

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