COP15, the UN Conference on Biodiversity, begins today in Montreal (under the presidency of China as (click here for further information).

With the expiry of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the related 20 Aichi Targets, a regulatory space has been created for protecting global biodiversity. Negotiations at COP15 therefore now aim to fill in this gap, with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Accord. This is expected to become a benchmark international agreement for halting and reversing global biodiversity loss, with many considering it the ‘Paris Agreement for Biodiversity’. Unfortunately, the task ahead seems arduous given current disagreements over the draft agreement. More than 900 parts of the text are still up in the air, which means countries have yet to agree on these sections

We left off in June after the 4th round of preparatory negotiations in Nairobi. After six days of these, which ended on 26 June, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, announced an upcoming 5th negotiation session to be held in Montreal immediately prior to COP15. The reason for this was that the Nairobi negotiations produced a draft with too many disagreements and still undecided sections (click here for more information). As a result, less consensus was reached than hoped for on key issues during the negotiations (explained further below). 

To resolve the impasse, the COP15 co-chairs continued informal consultations with countries, seeking compromise and possible solutions. At the end of September, the co-chairs additionally convened a meeting in Montreal with an ‘informal group’ of negotiators comprised of five representatives from each world region. 

In mid-October, the informal group presented its conclusions and a clean draft of the agreed text, but with some important changes. This ‘simplified’ draft was to facilitate the work of the negotiators at COP15. However, some of Parties may potentially reject the recommendations it contained since not all countries were consulted for the draft. Civil society and the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB), the indigenous peoples constituency, also expressed concern over the ‘non-transparent process’ used to prepare the draft. 

Moreover, during the 5th preparatory negotiating session, which ended Monday, 5 December, country positions remained polarised and diverged on most issues. No significant progress was achieved, shifting the burden onto COP15 to resolve things.

We need to remember that the stakes are very high. Biodiversity loss is occurring at an unprecedented rate and tens to hundreds of times more rapidly than anytime over the last 10 million years (thus, the so-called ‘sixth mass extinction’). The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the IPCC’s biodiversity counterpart, has confirmed that 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many of them in the coming decades. This will occur unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of those factors driving biodiversity loss

Moreover, as was mentioned at COP27, the challenges created by the climate and biodiversity crisis are similar and must be addressed together. Various analyses tell us that 30% of emission mitigation should come from nature. Thus, we can’t achieve the Paris target of keeping global temperatures below 1.5C without protecting biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

We cannot afford to leave COP15 without an ambitious and transformative agreement that has adequate economic resources to support it and implementation and monitoring mechanisms. The time to act, step up efforts, and raise our ambitions for protecting biodiversity is now. We’ll, therefore, be following the negotiations closely and update you in the coming days on the initial developments during the negotiations.

Article by Margherita Barbieri, Climate and Advocacy volunteer

Cover photo: credits CBD

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