Major biodiversity summit will go ahead in Canada not China: what scientists think

Swathes of the Amazon turned into a mosaic of islands of jungle interspersed with vast cattle ranches.

Deforestation, in places such as the Amazon, contributes to biodiversity loss.Credit: Ivan Valencia/Bloomberg/Getty

Researchers are relieved that a pivotal summit to finalize a new global agreement to save nature will go ahead this year, after two-years of delays because of the pandemic. But they say the hard work of negotiating an ambitious deal lays ahead.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) announced yesterday that the meeting will move from Kunming in China to Montreal in Canada. The meeting of representatives from almost 200 member states of the CBD — known as COP15 — will now run from 5 to 17 December. China will continue as president of the COP15 and Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, will continue as chairman.

Conservation and biodiversity scientists were growing increasingly concerned that China’s strict ‘zero COVID’ strategy, which uses measures such as lockdowns to quash all infections, would force the host nation to delay the meeting again. Researchers warned that another setback to the agreement, which aims to halt the alarming rate of species extinctions and protect vulnerable ecosystems, would be disastrous for countries’ abilities to meet ambitious targets to protect biodiversity over the next decade.

“We are relieved and thankful that we have a firm date for these critically important biodiversity negotiations within this calendar year,” says Andrew Deutz, an expert in biodiversity law and finance at the Nature Conservancy, a conservation group in Virginia, US. “The global community is already behind in agreeing, let alone implementing, a plan to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030,” he says.

With the date now set, Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, says the key to success in Montreal will be for the new global biodiversity agreement to focus on the direct and indirect drivers of nature loss, and the behaviors that underpin them. “Policy should be led by science, action adequately resourced and change should be transformative,” she adds.

New location

The decision to move the meeting came about after representatives of the global regions who make up the decision-making body of the COP reached a consensus to shift it to Montreal. China and Canada then thrashed out the details of how the move would work. The CBD has provisions that if a host country is unable to hold a COP, the meeting shifts to the home of the convention’s secretariat, Montreal.

Announcing the decision, Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the CBD, said in a statement, “I want to thank the government of China for their flexibility and continued commitment to advancing our path towards an ambitious post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.”

In a statement, Runqiu said, “China would like to emphasize its continued strong commitment, as COP president, to ensure the success of the second part of COP 15, including the adoption of an effective post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and to promote its delivery throughout its presidency.”

China also agreed to pay for ministers from the least developed countries and small Island developing states to travel to Montreal to participate in the meeting.

Work ahead

Paul Matiku, an environmental scientist and head of Nature Kenya, a conservation organization in Nairobi, Kenya, says the move “is a welcome decision” after “the world lost patience after a series of postponements”.

But he says that rich nations need to reach deeper into their pockets to help low- and middle-income countries — which are home to much of the world’s biodiversity — to implement the deal, including meeting targets such as protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and seas and reducing the rate of extinction. Disputes over funding already threaten to stall the agreement. At a meeting in Geneva in March, nations failed to make progress on the new deal because countries including Gabon and Kenya argued that the US$10 billion of funding per year proposed in the draft text of the agreement was insufficient. They called for $100 billion per year in aid.

“The extent to which the CBD is implemented will depend on the availability of predictable, adequate financial flows from developed nations to developing country parties,” says Matiku.

Talks on the agreement are resuming in Nairobi from 21-26 June, where Deutz hopes countries can find common ground on key issues such as financing before heading to Montreal. Having a firm date set for the COP15 will help push negotiations forward, he says.

“Negotiators only start to compromise when they are up against a deadline. Now they have one,” he says.

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