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COP15 in Montreal makes history – Here’s what you need to know…

what is cop15

You might have noticed that “COP27” and “COP15” have been all over the news since early November. That’s because over the last two months global leaders have come together to discuss Earth’s future, and what actions need to be taken to protect it. 

COP15, the 15th Conference of the Parties, will take place from December 7th until the 19th 2022 in Montreal, Canada bringing together nations for a major treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

Experts say that COP15 is the last chance to reverse the decline of nature… so it’s kind of a big deal. 

During COP15, negotiators are expected to finalize and sign a document called the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The framework is a strategy with nearly two dozen measurable targets designed to conserve ecosystems and the benefits they provide, such as food and plant-derived medicines.

Some History: What is Cop15?

COP is an abbreviation for the  Conference of the Parties of a United Nations (UN) international convention. Three COPs have been scheduled in 2022

  • COP 27: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change
  • CITES COP19: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
  • COP15: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

The numbers following COP indicate how many times the parties have met since the initial conference.

The need for an international convention dedicated to biodiversity was first acknowledged at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988. Following this, a Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity took place in 1992. The Convention was open for signature on June 5th, 1992 at the UN’s Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”), and received 168 signatures by June 4th, 1993. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) officially became active on December 29th, 1993, and scheduled the first session of the Conference of the Parties for November 1994 in the Bahamas. 

Biological diversity, or biodiversity, refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the CBD’s governing body that meets every two years in order to discuss the conservation of the natural world and how to sustainably use resources.

Since the Convention’s establishment, nearly every nation or state in the world has joined, resulting in a grand total of 196 countries that make up the COP. Every ten years, COP members meet to agree on new targets for protecting the earth’s biodiversity. The biennial COP meetings ensure that decisions made by the Convention advance in implementation. 

COP15 is an important milestone for the Convention as it has been a decade since the last targets were negotiated. Therefore this year, the summit will negotiate biodiversity targets to meet by 2030.  

COP15 Vs COP27

Last month COP27 was all over the news as important world leaders came together to discuss climate change in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. You might have noticed that there has been significantly less coverage of COP15. Part of the reason for this is that fewer high-profile delegates are in attendance compared to other summits like COP27. 

As mentioned earlier, the main difference between COP15 and COP27 is the topic of conversation. COP15 is the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity whereas COP27 is the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change. 

In short, COP27 focuses on solving the issue of climate change, and COP15 is concerned with biodiversity. 

There is a growing consensus that biodiversity loss and climate change are intrinsically linked, and each conference may mention the other. For example at the climate change-focused COP26 in Glasgow, parties signed the Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in part because it recognizes that biodiversity loss is exacerbating climate change “by debilitating nature’s ability to sequester or store carbon.” 

In fact, COP27’s final agreement, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan included, for the first time, dedicated sections on oceans, forests, and agriculture demonstrating acknowledgment of the connection between protecting nature and climate change.

There are designated conventions and summits in order to ensure that the complexities of each topic are not missed or overlooked in international commitments.

Why is COP15 Important

With all of these different conventions, summits, and international agreements, you might wonder what makes COP15 especially important. 

Well, the answer is not pretty…

According to scientists, Earth is experiencing the largest loss of life since the extinction of the dinosaurs, a loss of life so great it threatens the foundations of human civilization. 

The statistics behind these claims might shock you:

  • Earth’s wildlife populations have declined by 69% since 1970
  • More than 500 land animals are on the brink of extinction
  • One in eight birds could be wiped out
  • 30% of tree species are at risk; 
  • Insects are facing an ‘apocalypse’ with 40% of global species threatened.

This devastating loss of life is driven by human behavior, however, many key decision-makers disagree over the best course of action to address these issues. 

2022’s COP15 in Montreal is significant because many of these issues will be discussed as the parties negotiate this decade’s UN biodiversity targets, known as the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). 

As mentioned earlier, these targets are only assessed every ten years, and therefore what is decided at COP15 will be extremely influential for the trajectory of the health of biodiversity globally. 

So, yea, it’s a big deal.

We find encouragement in global leaders coming together to address a topic that has been referred to as climate change’s “Cinderella sister” given that earth’s biological diversity and climate change are intrinsically linked. 

The fate of human life on earth is inextricably linked with the health and well-being of nature, therefore it is critical that governments take living within the means of ecological boundaries seriously.  

What are the goals of COP15 Montreal?

At COP15, biodiversity-focused discussions will cover a wide breadth of topics such as microscopic viruses, conservation techniques, knowledge-sharing, and relevant financial policies that come with protecting the world’s biodiversity. 

The overall aim of this monumental meeting is to establish a “detailed global agreement on slowing biodiversity loss and restoring the delicate balance between humans and nature”. The vision of these meetings is that by 2050 “biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”

Furthermore, the global agreement referred to as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework – for “living in harmony with nature”, and its targets will be negotiated by attending parties and signed by December 19th. There are three main objectives that the agreement must encompass in order to achieve this aim:

  1. Conserve biological diversity. 
  2. Ensure the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity. 
  3. Ensure the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources — the genetic material of plants, animals, or microorganisms.

The framework will detail what counties need to do in order to cease and reverse damage to plants, animals, and ecosystems. The draft version of the framework suggests a pledge to protect at minimum 30% of the planet’s land and sea areas by 2030. It also includes long-term conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity goals for 2050. 

Based on this overarching aim and document objectives, it is expected that 21 targets will be outlined in the Post-2020 Global Diversity Framework that needs to be achieved by 2030. These targets will be detailed below in 2022 COP15 Expected Outcomes.  

What’s on the COP15 Agenda?

A variety of topics will be discussed throughout the course of the summit in order to establish a final agreement. A full outline of all events and meetings scheduled for the conference can be found here. For many of the talks, you can tune in from the comfort of your own home! 

Here is a brief list of some of the topics that will be covered:

  • Recommendations from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Transforming food systems to reverse biodiversity loss and achieve food security and nutrition for all by 2030
  • Informing the scientific and technical evidence base for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework
  • Sustainable Wildlife Management
  • Nature and Culture
  • Biodiversity and Agriculture
  • The imperative for international standards to achieve global biodiversity targets
  • 10 years of implementing Biodiversity Finance Plans – stories from the field

Who are the COP15 Key Players?

Representatives of 196 governments and delegates of various stakeholders will come together at COP15. 

It’s a big turnout.

Those in attendance will include political decision-makers, representatives from the business and finance community, scientists and academics, Indigenous peoples and local community members, non-governmental organizations, and youth delegates.  

Traditionally, world leaders do not attend the biodiversity summits, rather ministerial representatives are sent for the negotiations. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will open COP15 on Dec. 6 with António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, and Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment. 

It should be noted that China is the host of COP15, but due to the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the conference was postponed and relocated. China was responsible for inviting various heads of state and selected the theme of the summit: ecological civilization. 

The United States is not a party to the CBD, however, a special envoy for biodiversity and water resources appointed by President Joe Biden has been sent to attend the conference. 

Some of the countries in attendance and their goals for the conference include:

  • EU member states, the UK, Colombia, and Costa Rica are among a group of 100-plus members driving environmental ambition in the agreement through the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (similar to the group responsible for the 1.5C target in the 2015 Paris climate agreement).
  • Namibia, Kenya, South Africa, Gabon, and many other African countries are looking for a deal on digital biopiracy. 
  • Brazil and Argentina, both big agricultural producers, have previously been accused by others of blocking environmental ambition. However, it is predicted Brazil’s role may change under the new president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A total list of the Convention on Biological Diversity parties and attendees can be reviewed here

2022 COP15 Expected Outcomes

COP15 will result in the establishment of over twenty action-orientated, biodiversity-focused targets that must be achieved by 2030.

And, as expected they will cover a wide breadth of topics. 

Scientists and campaigners globally have been pushing for a ‘Paris Agreement for Nature’ as the desired outcome for COP15’s Global Biodiversity Framework. 

Here is a brief overview of some themes for the new targets:

1. Protecting Earth

More than 100 countries have already agreed to include a so-called 30-by-30 target in the final agreement, under which 30% of the world’s land and water will be protected by 2030.

2. Pesticides

A target to reduce pesticide use by at least two-thirds is on the table at COP15. The EU has said it will aim for a 50% reduction by the end of the decade but a global target is likely to face significant pushback from agricultural producers.

3. Preventing extinctions

Multiple clauses focused on protecting the 1 million species estimated to face extinction due to human behavior have been proposed in the COP15 agreement.

4. Government subsidies

Many countries want to include a target to reduce or repurpose at least $500bn a year in tax breaks that contribute to environmental degradation by 2025.

5. Plastic pollution 

In early 2022 world leaders decided to establish a legally binding treaty on the plastic waste that litters Earth’s oceans and rivers. To avoid duplication, targets regarding plastic pollution will most likely differ from the treaty.

6. Invasive Species

A COP15 draft target proposes greater efforts to eliminate invasive species and reduce their spread by half.

7. Nature restoration

A target to expand protected areas and restore at least 1bn hectares of degraded terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems has been proposed. This potential increase in the protected areas would be equivalent to the size of China!

8. Digital Biopiracy 

Also being discussed, developing countries demand they are paid for drug discoveries that use the genetic data of their biodiversity in digital form. Money more generally is set to be a big obstacle, as poorer, nature-rich nations also need the funding to protect the resources the whole world depends on.

9. Business and Finance

One of the proposed targets requires that all businesses and financial institutions assess and disclose their environmental impacts by 2030. They would then be expected to reduce their negative impacts by at least half. 

While seeing an international willingness to commit to these targets is encouraging, previous global efforts regarding biodiversity have a record of over-promising and not delivering. 

In order to prevent catastrophic failure, a good and promising final text is one that advocates for authentic action on issues such as overconsumption and pollution while also contributing adequate resources for aggressive conservation initiatives.

COP15 Critiques and Concerns

The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity does not have a great history when it comes to fulfilling agreed-upon targets. Therefore many are skeptical about whether these global conferences have any lasting impact. 

At the 2002 conference, the Parties to the Convention committed “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss.” This did not occur. 

At COP10 in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, governments agreed to the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a collection of ambitious global goals regarding biodiversity. Governments pledged to reduce the loss of natural habitats by half and expand nature reserves to 17% of the world’s land area. None of these targets were met by the 2020 deadline. 

Various critics claim that these targets failed because they were too complex and plans to achieve them were not clearly established. As a result, measuring success and adherence to the various targets was difficult to assess. Any targets established at COP15 need to be explicitly measurable with requirements for governments or stakeholders to report on progress to ensure that this monumental conference is legitimately effective. 

Financial resources dedicated to assisting various projects in accordance with the targets have been severely lacking, adding an additional obstacle to success. It is estimated that up to $700 billion annually would be needed to execute the demands of the 30-by-30 target. However, it is uncertain whether enough will be pledged to restore and protect Earth’s biodiversity.

The aforementioned 30-by-30 target also has the potential to be problematic. This target calls for 30% of the world’s land and water to be protected by 2030. Historically, protected areas globally have been carved out of Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands, which often results in land dispossession, cultural loss, and numerous human rights violations. 

It is therefore important that Indigenous consultations, as well as consultations with stakeholders other than those in business and finance, are taken seriously when drafting these agreements.   

COP15’s Key Events 

At such a large and momentous conference, it is expected that numerous important events will occur, aside from the drafting of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Therefore here is a quick overview of some notable moments that have happened thus far:

  • Brazil’s lead climate negotiator led a COP15 walkout. The walkout was due to a deadlock regarding how a biodiversity framework would be funded.
  • Hundreds of people marched in Montreal demanding a strong new deal to protect the natural world. Some were dressed as birds, trees, and caribou activists to raise awareness about the severity of the mass extinction the world is now experiencing. 
  • On Monday, December 19th, a landmark global deal to protect nature and direct billions of dollars towards conservation was approved. Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, and COP15 president, disregarded. objections from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) delegates who said they were unable to support the deal.
  • Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said the world should have taken a leaf out of Australia’s book and its commitment of no new extinctions.

“We have yet to see any counter-proposals from the developed countries that would address the concerns that developing countries have raised in this regard”. – Lead negotiator, Leonardo Cleaver de Athayde

Cop15 Final Deal

Provided below is a brief overview of the 23 targets that were approved in the final deal, also referred to as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The framework was approved over the objections of the DRC and frustrations by other African nations. Many conservationists are saying that this agreement is not strong enough to prevent industries and corporate behemoths from continuing their destructive, profit-driven attacks on the natural world and vulnerable species. A Greenpeace representative stated that the final agreement is “an open invitation to greenwash. In its present shape, it won’t halt biodiversity loss, much less reverse it.”

Here are some commitments listed within the agreement:

  • Delegates agreed to the deal’s most ambitious target of protecting 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030
  • Reduce to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity
  • Cut global food waste in half and significantly reduce overconsumption and waste generation
  • Reduce by half both excess nutrients and the overall risk posed by pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals
  • It directs countries to allocate $200 billion per year from public and private biodiversity initiatives
  • Raise international financial flows from developed to developing countries, to at least US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030
  • Harmful subsidies must be reduced by $500 billion per year
  • Prevent the introduction of priority invasive alien species, reduce by at least half the introduction and establishment of other known or potentially invasive alien species, and eradicate or control invasive alien species on islands and other priority sites
  • Parties agreed to large companies and financial institutions being subject to requirements to make disclosures regarding their operations, supply chains, and portfolios, however, the word “mandatory” was dropped. 

The 23 approved targets as part of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework can be reviewed here.

Frequently Asked Questions about COP15

What does COP15 stand for?

COP15 refers to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity. 15 indicates how many times the parties have met since the initial conference.

What was discussed at COP15?

The focal discussion of COP15 is negotiating over twenty action-orientated biodiversity-focused targets that must be achieved by 2030 that will result in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Target themes include:

  • Recommendations from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Transforming food systems to reverse biodiversity loss and achieve food security and nutrition for all by 2030
  • Informing the scientific and technical evidence base for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework
  • Sustainable Wildlife Management
  • Nature and Culture
  • Biodiversity and agriculture
  • The imperative for international standards to achieve global biodiversity targets
  • 10 years of implementing Biodiversity Finance Plans – stories from the field

A full outline of all events and meetings scheduled for the conference can be found here.

What are COP27 and COP15?

COP is an abbreviation for the Conference of the Parties of a United Nations (UN) international convention. Three COPs have been scheduled for 2022

  • COP 27: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change
  • CITES COP19: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
  • COP15: Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
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