The phrase “nature positive” has been plastered on billboards and used as hashtags to promote COP15, the U.N.’s annual conference on biodiversity.
World leaders and environmental rights activists are meeting in Montreal this week to hash out some of the world’s most pressing biodiversity issues. “Nature positive by 2030” is the proposed goal of the summit, but its interpretation is debatable.
In conversations about climate change, net zero emissions serve as common phrasing for the global goal, but in talks of the environment and natural protections, there is no exact phrase to sum up the objective. “Nature positive” aims to serve as the catch-all phrase for positive advancement toward environmental protection, but critics argue the phrasing is too vague and easy to manipulate.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of World Wildlife Fund International, said in a statement in 2021 that “nature positive” should be a universal goal, insinuating it accomplishes more than achieving “net zero.”
Lambertini said the goals of COP15 “sets a clear 2030 global goal for nature in order to reverse nature and biodiversity loss, and drive just and nature-positive transitions of economic sectors – primarily food systems and infrastructures.”
The Guardian reports that ten key organizations currently using the phrase “nature positive” define the term differently. While all interpretations of the phrase promote nature recovery and positive nature growth, there is no universal consensus on how to get there. The U.N. has not provided a list of delegates to COP15, planning to do so after the event ends. The Guardian has reported some delegates and representing parties have ties to the oil and natural gas companies, such as BP.
COP15’s sister conference, COP27, was held in November and focused primarily on climate change and global emissions. However, COP27 came under harsh scrutiny as over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists attended the conference, and Coca-Cola, the world’s largest plastic polluter, was a corporate sponsor.
Bloomberg News reports that 1,400 organizations, including NGOs and for-profit companies from 103 countries will be in attendance along with national delegations.
Oxford biology professor E.J. Milner-Gulland is an advocate for “nature positive” as an effective term for environmental action but argued in a paper published by Nature, Ecology, and Evolution that the term is being used by corporations to “green-wash” their behavior.
“In a nature-positive future, we’re not going to have fossil fuel companies,” Milner-Gulland told the Guardian.
Reaching a global consensus on the definition attainment of “nature positive” has quickly become a goal of COP15. The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity released the first draft of its Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework last year. It is the main topic of discussion during the conference, with the goal being a cooperative agreement on the framework going into the next decade.
By far, the most significant goal of COP15’s 20 targets, and the one facing the most pushback, is the plan to claim 30% of land and sea areas as protected land by 2030. The primary argument against this target is not necessarily that it is asking too much but rather that land-based agreements violate human rights. Indigenous communities have lived and been caregivers for natural areas for thousands of years, and the sanctioning of land places their lifestyles and cultures at serious risk.
Monday marked the halfway point of COP15, and the conference does not appear any closer to an agreement.
Elizabeth Mrema, the Head of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, said she is still hopeful a plan will be reached by Monday.