Beijing - Delegates from 195 countries have pledged to set "ambitious" goals to halt the loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems as the first phase of a key UN summit.
The COP15 gathering in south China's Kunming saw the adoption of a declaration to recognise the importance of biodiversity in human health, strengthen species protection laws and improve the sharing of genetic resources.
It will be followed by discussions next January in Geneva, culminating in the second summit in April in Kunming, to hammer out more detailed conservation targets for the next decade.
"A key achievement in (the first part) is that (it showed) there is political will, political commitment to have an ambitious framework," Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity said Friday.
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"(We need)... actions, now and today," she said. "We don't have to wait till the framework is adopted," referring to major pact for nature to be announced in May.
The pledge comes as China -- the world's biggest polluter, which has seen almost half of its land-based vertebrates vanish -- attempts a more prominent role internationally on biodiversity conservation.
China's minister for Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu said: "The international community expects COP15 to become a key point to reverse the loss of biodiversity".
He said the pledge would "promote an ambitious and pragmatic post-2020 biodiversity framework and lead global progress."
Up for debate are proposals to include conserving at least 30 percent of the world's land and oceans, eliminating plastic waste and cutting pesticide use by two-thirds.
The "Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework" also includes suggestions to boost investment in biodiversity protection to $200 billion a year, and reduce subsidies to polluting industries by at least $500 billion a year.
- 'Falling short' -
But conservationists warned world leaders have not shown enough ambition to tackle grave biodiversity loss affecting food security and the health of the planet.
"Countries should not be under the false impression that Kunming will be declared a success if this is all they can do," Li Shuo, a global policy advisor at Greenpeace Asia, said.
"The truth is we are falling short."
Around one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction as a result of habitat encroachment, over-exploitation, pollution, the spread of invasive species, and climate change.
Global leaders have so far failed to achieve a single target to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems set for the last decade, a devastating UN report recently said.
"We cannot be satisfied with the pace of progress to date," said Bruno Oberle, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's director general.
"However, the good news is that we can still halt and reverse the declines if we take urgent action now."
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- Funding gap -
Global spending to protect and restore nature needs to triple to roughly $350 billion annually by 2030 and $536 billion by 2050 to meet the new international targets, a UN report said in May.
But current spending is a fraction of that -- between $124 billion to $143 billion annually -- according to the French Development Agency.
Lack of funding for conservation, particularly in poorer nations, has been a major obstacle to achieving progress.
On Tuesday, China pledged $233 million for a new fund to protect biodiversity in developing countries, with Japan earlier promising $17 million.
The UK also recently committed $4 billion for global conservation projects over the next five years, and France has promised to spend 30 percent of its climate finance on biodiversity.
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The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 195 countries and the European Union -- although not the United States, the world's biggest polluter historically -- with the parties meeting every two years.
COP15's biodiversity discussions are separate from the weightier COP26 summit next month where world leaders are under pressure to act on the climate crisis.
By Laure Fillon & Poornima Weerasekara