Understanding Cop15: What to watch out for in Montreal | Cop15

PAccording to scientists, the earth is suffering the greatest loss of human life since the time of the dinosaurs. This loss is being caused by human behavior, and governments are at odds over how to respond. At Cop15 in Montreal, many of those disagreements will come to a head as they negotiate the United Nations’ biodiversity goals for this decade, known as the Global Biodiversity Framework — or “GBF” if you’re an insider. From the key players to what’s on the table, here’s what you need to know to understand the summit.

What is Cop15? Didn’t we just have a cop?

Cop15 is about biodiversity, not climate, although there is obvious overlap. It is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – hence Cop15 – and will take place in Montreal from December 7th to 19th. The world negotiates biodiversity targets only once a decade, and governments will agree them in Montreal in December for the 2020s, after more than two years of pandemic-related delays. Aichi’s biodiversity goals were the last to be agreed at the 2010 Cop10 in Nagoya, Japan. Among other things, governments pledged to halve the loss of natural habitats and expand protected areas to 17% of the world’s land area by 2020. They failed in every way.

Why is Cop15 so important?

According to scientists, the earth is experiencing the sixth mass extinction that threatens the foundations of human civilization. How we farm, pollute, drive, heat our homes and consume is beyond what our planet can sustainably provide, and at Cop15 governments are tasked with finding a way to live within planetary boundaries. The destiny of man is inextricably linked with nature. The insurance group Swiss Re estimates that more than half of global GDP depends on the healthy functioning of nature.

How does Cop15 want to protect nature?

Unlike the UN climate process, which has the clear goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the Convention on Biological Diversity has three goals: the sustainable use of biological diversity, sharing of genetic resources and conservation. As part of those goals, negotiators must agree on a final package on issues ranging from harmful farm subsidies to the spread of invasive species.

Illustration: Leon Edler/The Guardian

What is in the draft contract?

A draft target to protect 30% of land and seas by the end of the decade – known as “30 by 30” – has dominated the Cop15 headlines. But there are more than 20 other draft targets that make up the final text, and experts have warned that expanding protected areas alone will not be enough to halt nature’s decline. Other targets include proposals to limit the spread of invasive species, reduce and recycle $500bn (£439bn) a year in environmentally harmful subsidies, and make nature declarations mandatory for all major companies. A lot has yet to be agreed, so things could change in Montreal.

What are the main sticking points?

Money, the goal of 30% protected areas, implementation of the final agreement and a growing dispute over digital biopiracy are likely to be the biggest hurdles. A deal requires money and pragmatism. So far, poorer, nature-rich countries have generally been open to improving biodiversity conservation – but they want rich, often nature-poor countries to provide the resources to do so, perhaps with a deal similar to the Loss and Damage Climate Fund established at Cop26. Germany has pledged $1 billion for biodiversity in its climate finance plans, while other key players have yet to announce the resources they intend to make available.

Which key players should one watch out for?

The US is not a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, so EU member states, the UK, Colombia and Costa Rica are among the 100+ driving environmental ambitions in the deal through the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, much like the group Doing It the 1.5 degree target was included in the Paris climate agreement in 2015. The Africa Group, specifically Namibia, Kenya, South Africa and Gabon, will hold the key to a final deal but are looking for a deal on digital biopiracy. China, the cop president who chose ecological civilization as the summit’s theme, will also play a key role in its success. Brazil and Argentina, both big agricultural producers, have been accused of blocking environmental ambitions, although they deny it, and Brazil’s role could now change under newly elected President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

How have the negotiations gone so far?

The Cop15 organizers could be forgiven for thinking the summit was cursed. The meeting was scheduled to take place in Kunming, China in October 2020, with China set to take the lead in a major UN environmental agreement for the first time. The pandemic happened and it was postponed. Then it was postponed again… You get the idea. Now Cop15 has been moved to Canada, but China retains responsibility for organizing most of the summit. Officials from Britain’s Cop26 team are understood to be helping Canada with logistics as 10,000 delegates are expected, while China and Canada are said to be working well together despite high-profile tensions between Xi Jinping and Justin Trudeau.

I want to help. How can I get involved?

Cop15 urgently needs your attention. Averting the collapse of life on Earth is vital, so it’s helpful to air it with politicians on social media and urge world leaders to agree on a text, that of the scientific worthy of challenge. Leonardo DiCaprio will follow events in Montreal and update his 19 million followers on Twitter, while Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who led the world to the Paris Agreement, is among those highlighting the importance of Cop15 to have. It will take us all.

What does a good agreement look like?

Pragmatism must be balanced against urgent scientific warnings. A good final text is one that includes substantive action on issues such as overconsumption, intensive farming and pollution, while allocating sufficient resources for ambitious conservation initiatives that do not violate human rights. Nothing else will stop the decline.

For more coverage of the Age of Extinctions, click here and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Gruenfeld on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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