More than 50 countries agreed on Tuesday to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean area for biodiversity purposes, but New Zealand wasn’t among them.

The High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People officially launched in Paris ahead of the One Planet summit, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Alongside France, the United Kingdom and Costa Rica currently chair the coalition, which is modelled on successful alliances for increasing global ambition to reduce emissions.

A September report from the United Nations found that the world had failed to achieve any of the 20 biodiversity targets set at a major summit in 2010. As it stands, 96 percent of all mammals on Earth are either humans or their livestock and 70 percent of birds on the planet are farmed poultry.

“The initiatives and funding announced at the One Planet Summit provide critical momentum on nature ahead of major global environmental agreements to be made later this year and, crucially, start the process of turning commitments into action,” World Wildlife Fund International director-general Marco Lambertini said.

“However, a step change in both ambition and urgency is still needed if we are to secure a sustainable future for both people and the planet.”

How ambitious is New Zealand in its commitments to protect the environment? Click here to comment.

New Zealand’s absence from the coalition’s ranks has been slammed as “embarrassing” by local environmental activists. A Government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Newsroom.

Jessica Desmond, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace New Zealand, told Newsroom that the Government has failed to back up its big talk on biodiversity with action.

“It’s frankly embarrassing to see New Zealand not be as part of this 50-nation commitment to biodiversity protection, and it’s at odds with how New Zealanders see ourselves – as green and environmentally forward-thinking,” she said.

“The New Zealand Government is outspoken on environmental issues, like biodiversity protection, but they’re really failing to back that up with action.”

Green NGOs have been pushing for the Government to commit to protecting 30 percent of the ocean for biodiversity purposes for some time now. New Zealand has effectively preserved 30 percent of its land, but oceans are more complex. Currently, less than one percent of New Zealand’s oceans are marine reserves.

The Department of Conservation says there are between 57 and 75 Māui dolphins remaining. Photo: Getty Images

Newsroom understands that Treaty negotiations over traditional fishing rights in New Zealand’s oceans are one potential obstacle to such a commitment.

New Zealand is already a signatory to a handful of less ambitious biodiversity commitments, like the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which commits countries to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Nonetheless, the country’s absence from the new coalition has raised eyebrows at home.

“We put enormous resources into saving individual species like albatrosses, hoiho, and Māui dolphins, but their whole habitats are at risk. There is no hope for these species until we take steps to restore the entire living world they rely on,” Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said.

“We need to protect 30 percent of our oceans in true marine protected areas. We need to increase the resilience of our oceans in the face of climate change and allow for more places where fish numbers can recover.”

Desmond agreed, saying, “With approximately 80 percent of New Zealand’s native biodiversity found at sea, one of the first steps the Government should take is to increase marine protection. Compared to land, the oceans are vastly unprotected – only 0.4 percent are fully protected – and scientists tell us this will not be enough to stop biodiversity collapse.

“Globally, we have one of the largest ocean areas compared to our landmass, so as a nation we could have a disproportionate impact on marine conservation. It’s impossible to not be in awe of the diversity of New Zealand’s oceans, but if we don’t start acting with urgency, there will soon be little left to celebrate.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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