COP15: What to expect at the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade

After a two-year delay, the COP15 summit will meet in Montreal to craft an agreement to address the biodiversity crisis.


November 30, 2022

The Palais des Congrès de Montréal convention center will host the COP15 biodiversity summit


On December 7, representatives of almost every country in the world will gather in Montreal for the United Nations COP15 summit to address the global biodiversity crisis. Delays to the meeting have dampened expectations about the summit’s outcome, but participants are hopeful the meeting can be as important in halting biodiversity loss as the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement was for action on climate change.

COP15 is the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a treaty drafted in 1992 to protect the world’s biodiversity. The parties to the treaty include the European Union and every country in the world except the United States and Vatican City, although both will participate in the summit. Country representatives meeting in Montreal will negotiate an agreement to shape the next decade of action on biodiversity.

There are 22 targets in the draft agreement, known as the Global Biodiversity Framework. The draft was created by a UN working group in the years leading up to COP15 to replace an earlier agreement from the last major biodiversity summit held in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in 2010.

One of the key goals of the draft is a commitment to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s land and water by 2030. More than 100 countries have joined a coalition in support of this “30 percent” target. 30″.

That would be a significant increase: As of 2020, 15 percent of the land and about 7.5 percent of the ocean were protected, but “30 percent is not enough,” says Eric Dinerstein of Resolve, a consultancy. Dinerstein is part of a group advocating for 50 percent of the planet to be protected by 2030.

Other preliminary goals include offsetting billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions with nature-based approaches, such as conserving biodiversity-rich tropical forests, halting the spread of invasive species, and reducing pesticide pollution, fertilizers and waste. Another seeks to end or reduce subsidies for industries that contribute to biodiversity loss, for example through deforestation.

Climate change will also be a central theme in Montreal. Warming not only threatens many species of animals and plants, biodiverse forests and healthy ecosystems sequester carbon, and stopping their losses is key to achieving the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. “We absolutely have to conserve the most biodiverse forests in the world if we are going to stay within 1.5°C [of warming]says Dinerstein.

COP15 was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming, China in October 2020, but was delayed four times due to covid-19. The meeting was moved to Canada to avoid further delay, with China retaining the chair. The first phase of the convention was held in Kunming in October 2021. Ministers from more than 100 countries pledged to agree on the Global Biodiversity Framework by 2022, but fell short of committing to specific targets.

The delays haven’t helped push through a deal, says Tierra Curry of the Center for Biological Diversity, a US conservation advocacy group. “There are still too many parentheses” indicating parts of the deal that are yet to be determined, Susan says Lieberman of the Wildlife Conservation Society, a nonprofit organization in New York.

The working group has a final session just before the convention to try to get as much work done as possible, but a tight schedule will already start late. Alice Hughes, from the University of Hong Kong, says only two of the targets and about 20 per cent of the text in the framework have been agreed. “Many of us are very anxious because we haven’t made the necessary degree of progress,” she says.

Major sticking points include the role of donor countries and organizations in funding conservation initiatives in low-income countries: the draft agreement estimates that $700 billion would be needed to implement the goals. COP15 will also feature negotiations on the vexed question of who should benefit from medical or other biotechnology based on genetic sequences stored as digital information, as well as debates on biosafety and the role of synthetic biology in conservation.

If agreed on the framework at the summit, it would replace the 2010 Aichi targets. Despite partial progress on some of those targets, such as the amount of water and land protected, none have been fully achieved by 2020.

But there are reasons to hope that any targets agreed in Montreal will be more successful.. For one, there is more knowledge about how the world’s biodiversity is distributed and how to protect it, says Dinerstein. There is also greater recognition and participation of indigenous peoples in the process. Indigenous lands often contain more biodiversity than lands not managed by indigenous peoples.

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons from nature in recent years,” says Linda Kreuger of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization. “I hope that the negotiators arrive ready to act.”

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