COP15: Everything you need to know about the biodiversity negotiations in Montreal

COP27 may be over, but the UN is convening governments in Montreal this week for COP15, in a bid to create a new framework on protecting and enhancing biodiversity. Ahead of the final negotiations, edie outlines everything you need to know and may not have heard about this crucial summit.

COP15: Everything you need to know about the biodiversity negotiations in Montreal

The 2022 living planet report puts the average population size decline for wildlife globally at 69% since 1970

The meeting that is meant to be the final part of COP15 takes place in Montreal, Canada, from 5 December to 17 December, following a string of delays and postponements to efforts to create a new global treaty for biodiversity.

The summit was originally planned for Kunming, China, in 2020. It was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently split into two parts, with the first part successfully completed in Kunming in October 2021 and the second meeting in Kunming taking place this spring.

The second meeting was unsuccessful, with no final deal agreed upon. Interim talks in Nairobi were, therefore, added to the UN’s calendar for this summer, and a final meeting scheduled for Kunming in autumn. However, China saw a spike in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of the year and places including Beijing and Shanghai were put into lockdown because of China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach. And so, more than two years after the summit was meant to have taken place, delegates from UN nations will meet this week to finally agree on a “Paris Agreement style” deal for nature.

Ahead of the summit, edie answers some of your key questions about COP15.

What is biodiversity?

The term ‘biodiversity’ differs from ‘nature’. It refers to the various plants, animals and microorganisms that exist in a particular habitat or ecosystem, and the ways in which they interact with each other.

Biodiversity is being depleted in much of the world. In time, this will be detrimental to natural resources including clean water and food. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2021 named biodiversity loss as one of the five biggest threats to humanity over the next five to 10 years in terms of both likelihood and severity.

You can find out more in our edie Explains guide to biodiversity here. This resource, complied by edie and The Woodland Trust, was just updated last month.

What is the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?

The UN’s CBD, often referred to as its Biodiversity Convention, is regarded as the world’s first multilateral treaty on conserving biodiversity and working towards the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources. 196 countries have ratified the CBD.

The first iteration of the CBD was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, during the so-called ‘Earth Summit’. Nations left the meeting committing to set out their own national plans and, for the first time, to collaborate internationally through the UN to preserve biodiversity.

A key moment for the CBD came in 2010, when nations agreed on the world’s first ten-year set of targets for biodiversity in Japan. The agreement on these targets, the ‘Aichi Targets’ came after the UN declared the 2010s its ‘decade on biodiversity’. The targets were intended to run through 2020.

Fast-forward to 2020 and every single one of the goals had gone unmet. As mentioned above, countries were meant to develop a new sweeping set of goals and targets in 2020, but this process has been delayed due to Covid-19 and failures to reach an agreement. The CBD is due to be updated this time with a headline commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and to bring about a period of rapid, wide-reaching restoration thereafter.

What are CBD COP conferences? How are they different from climate COPs?

Every other year, representatives from nations committed to the CBD are supposed to meet for Meetings of the Parties (MOPs) and more formal and extensive Conventions of the Parties (COPs). Different locations are chosen each time.

CBD MOPs and COPs are different from the climate COPs which are held every year, typically in November or December, in both their frequency that different agenda items are up for discussion. CBD MOPs and COPs, for example, do not include extensive workstreams on the energy transition and decarbonisation. Climate COPs centre around the Paris Agreement whereas CDB COPs centre around the CBD.

The two events also differ in that climate COPs have a world leaders summit, where presidents and prime ministers attend to deliver opening speeches. This is not a feature of CBD COPs.

Many in the sustainability space have argued for the integration of both COPs, recognising how important nature is to climate adaptation and as a carbon sink. The Glasgow Climate Pact signed in November 2021 at climate COP26 states that nations understand “the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems”.

However, given that the agendas for climate COPs and biodiversity COPs are both packed and given that most of these events run over time as it is, integration is not something we’re likely to see in the near future.

What’s being discussed at COP15 and what will the output be?

The overarching aim of CBD COP15 is to produce a Paris Agreement-style deal for nature, resulting in an end to the degradation of biodiversity and the acceleration and mainstreaming of work to restore ecosystems and habitats. Nations are broadly agreed on 2030 as a date to end degradation and deterioration, but some environmental groups wanted an earlier date, plus reassurances that damage would not accelerate for the rest of the decade.

There are several key measures up for discussion that nations may agree to implement in full, including:

  • Setting aside 30% of land and water-based habitats by area side for nature via protection and conservation schemes and statuses
  • Stricter rules to curb the spread of invasive species
  • Mandating businesses to report on their impacts on, dependencies on, and risks relating to, biodiversity
  • Mandating a reduction in pesticide use in agriculture
  • Reforming or eliminating subsidies for industries that are depleting nature
  • Convening private finance to help redirect financial flows that harm nature
  • Providing more international biodiversity finance and increasing flows from wealthy to low-income nations. A $200bn annual increase is the headline goal.

All groups observing the talks are hoping for a smooth and ambitious outcome – especially given that two years have already been lost and biodiversity continues to deteriorate. However, it is not guaranteed that a final agreement will be struck before the year is out.

90 world leaders signed a pledge in 2020 for COP15 to deliver a “set of clear and robust goals and targets, underpinned by the best available science, technology”. Notably absent are China, Russia, the US and India.

 What do businesses want from COP15?

Businesses have been showing up on an unprecedented scale for climate COPs at Glasgow and in Sharm El Sheikh. Similarly, the business presence and voice at and around CBD COP15 is extremely evident – especially compared with 2010. We may expect businesses to push for a weaker agreement, as fossil fuel interests have at UN climate conferences. But this does not seem to be the case.

Global collaborative initiative Business for Nature has convened more than 330 businesses and financial institutions from 52 countries to engage with policymakers on matters relating to the private sector’s impacts on biodiversity. It wants to see a strong mission statement for a nature-positive world.

Ahead of COP15, it is specifically campaigning for a strong agreement for the treaty to require nations to mandate nature-related disclosures for all large businesses this decade. This call to action is being made through the ‘make it mandatory’ campaign, whose supporters include Ikea, Nestle, Unilever and H&M Group. The mandate, the group argues, should cover all large businesses and financial institutions and should be coupled with a target for these actors to at least halve negative impacts.

‘Make it mandatory’ is part of a broader set of recommendations from Business for Nature, which can be seen in full here. edie recently interviewed Business for Nature’s executive director Eva Zabey to find out more about these recommendations, including why there is such strong business support and what the final treaty would look like in an ideal situation. Read that interview in full here.

What comes next, after COP15?

Of course, nations will need to deliver the commitments they make through the treaty agreed (hopefully) in Montreal. We can expect the agreement to include more detail on how nations will be held accountable, ensuring this is not the second decade of missed targets.

The UN has not yet announced where CBD COP16 will be held or when, given that COP15 has had more parts than originally anticipated and is still ongoing. The CBD meetings calendar does not yet list any meetings for 2023.

However, the next climate COP, COP28, is confirmed. Dubai will host and is hoping to run the summit from 30 November to 12 December.

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