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What is COP15? The Importance of a Global Deal for Nature

protesters in Nairobi, Kenya

With one million species at risk of extinction due to deforestation, overfishing, development and other human activities, greater leadership and political will to end the biodiversity crisis are crucial at this month’s UN biodiversity summit.

From December 7 to 19, representative from 196 Parties will gather in Montreal, Canada for the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties, referred to as COP15. Read about why this UN meeting matters and how it could drive meaningful action on biodiversity loss.

What is COP15 and what’s at stake?

“The time has come to change the trajectory of our planet and, in return, the future of humankind. We can no longer continue with a ‘business as usual’ attitude,” said Elizabeth Mrema, the executive secretary of the UN CBD. Mrema stressed in a press briefing at the climate change summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt last month the importance of addressing biodiversity while the world is dealing with solutions to climate change.

Mrema was referring to the crucial COP15 biodiversity summit, where countries are expected to commit to a new plan to tackle biodiversity crisis called the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Countries have committed to renew their commitments every 10 years since it was first agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

This will be the biggest biodiversity conference in a decade and has been delayed for more than two years because of Covid-19 pandemic.

In Montreal, discussions will focus on three aims of the CBD: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of biodiversity; and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The landmark agreement of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework will likely include more than 20 targets that range from pledges to accelerate biodiversity conservation, considering economic, social and financial aspects. The framework will be a successor to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which anchored CBD’s previous 2011-2020 strategic plan for biodiversity.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, these targets call for among other things: At least 30 percent of land and sea areas globally are conserved; 50 percent greater reduction in the rate of introduction of invasive alien species; reduce nutrients lost to the environment by at least half and pesticides by at least two thirds as well as eliminating plastic waste; mitigation and adaptation measures must be in place to avoid negative impacts to biodiversity; a US$200 billion increase in international financial flows for nature protection.

What happened at the preparatory meeting on biodiversity in Nairobi in June?

In June this year, governments met in Nairobi, Kenya for a week-long meeting of the open-ended working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The meeting ends with little consensus on the text of the framework signaling a significant amount of work needed before COP15.

It was a slow-paced biodiversity talks where they made little progress on the targets and goals particularly on sustainable agriculture, forestry and aquaculture, access and benefit-sharing, targets on tolls and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming, financial resources, rights and roles of Indigenous peoples and digital sequence information on genetic resources that required considerable amount of further work.

Of the more than 20 targets on the table for discussion, only two had been agreed in Nairobi – access and benefit sharing from urban spaces; and strengthening capacity building and development, including the access to and transfer of technology.

One of the important issues on which discussion dragged was on reducing pollution from all sources to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity and ecosystem functions, and human health. This, delegates believe, will be discussed again at COP15.

Finance is still the stickiest issue. The CBD secretariat said about US$700 billion annually is needed to finance conservation.  But the Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced in Nairobi that they have invested more than US$5.3 billion to conserve biodiversity. And weeks before COP15, GEF has announced about US$65 million new funding for biodiversity projects and planning, including biodiversity finance plans to support 26 countries to prepare for new global biodiversity goals.

For Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, the negotiations are “painstakingly slow in progress”. He warned of a weak COP15 in Montreal should leaders fail to hammer out a strong biodiversity agreement to curb the loss of nature. He said that human activities are driving accelerating biodiversity loss.

a plenary in Nairobi
A plenary in session in Nairobi, Kenya / Credit: Imelda Abano. 

What needs to happen at COP15?

Stakes are high and negotiations will be tricky as many issues will be negotiated. While the summit was moved to Montreal with now more than 10,000 registered international delegates, China holds the COP15 presidency. China’s strict Covid-19 policies prevented it from holding the event there.

At COP15, wealthy and developing countries are expected to have tough debates on five big issues: funding to support developing countries to finance biodiversity conservation; create ambitious protections for wildlife with more than 30 percent of land and sea by 2030 (known as 30x30 target); on who is going to monitor the targets agreed; putting indigenous peoples and local communities at the center of decision-making and funding to conserve nature; and a discussion over digital sequence information relating to biopiracy.

While various crucial points discussed in the past biodiversity talks remain unresolved, countries must adopt a robust, ambitious and all-inclusive post-2020 global biodiversity framework so that the governments will be guided to a so-called whole-of-society work to protect and restore biodiversity, especially protecting the world’s land and oceans.