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COP 15: UN Biodiversity Conference

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Although it won’t receive anywhere near as much press attention as the recent Climate Change COP 27 which took place in Egypt in November, an equally significant meeting is currently underway in Montreal, Canada (7-19 December). At the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), governments will set out legally binding global biodiversity targets that will cover the period up to 2030.

What is biodiversity and why is it important?

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the medicines we use, and a habitable climate, they all rely on biodiversity and the species and organisms that make up the natural world. The world’s biodiversity has developed over millions of years of evolution and the incredibly complex interactions of all life, resulting in a healthy but finely balanced planet.

Sadly, this complex web of life is starting to unravel. The destruction of habitats, a warming climate, and other human induced factors are having profoundly negative consequences for all life on earth. The impact on wild species has been particularly devastating. We are now living in an era known as the sixth extinction, with extinction rates now 1,000 times higher than in the time before humans dominated the planet. More than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction, with one in five reptiles, one in eight birds, and 40% of all plant species at risk.

Can COP 15 make a difference?

COP 15 aims to achieve a historic agreement to halt and reverse nature loss, on par with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Parties are aiming to agree a post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which will set at least 21 targets up to 2030, covering topics such as plastic pollution, protecting natural ecosystems, reducing pesticide use, and lowering the current extinction rate by 90%. The headline target that parties hope to agree on is the 30 by 30 initiative, a commitment to designate at least 30% of global land and seas as protected areas by 2030.

Image credit: Gareth Thomas and Skyhawk Photography

Reaching an ambitious agreement appears unlikely, given the diverging views of the 195 countries that have ratified the convention – all of which must agree on the way forward.  With a cost-of-living crisis affecting much of the world, the priorities of both governments and the public appear to be elsewhere, and it is unlikely that many senior politicians will make the effort to attend the talks or spend much political capital on such an intractable and complex issue.

Even if an ambitious agreement is reached, ensuring it is implemented is another challenge entirely. Not even one of the 20 biodiversity targets agreed at COP 10 in Japan, in 2010, have been fully met, with no apparent consequences. The targets set by the CBD in the previous decade were also not met.

What are we hoping for?

A global agreement on the 30 by 30 initiative would undoubtedly be a strong statement that the world is finally starting to take biodiversity loss seriously. Such a commitment, if met, would also be hugely significant in tackling climate change, as protecting biodiversity and maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems have huge benefits for both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Protecting such a large area of the world’s land and seas will inevitably present massive challenges. Firstly, the definition of what is meant by protection and what this entails will be highly contested. Secondly, how will the rights and views of people who live in protected areas, including indigenous voices, be heard and respected, and how will they benefit. Thirdly, where will the huge sums of money required to protect so much of the earth come from, and how will it flow to the developing world which is home to many of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Finally, how will progress on 30 by 30 be monitored, and enforced. There will of course be many more challenges in addition to these, underlining how difficult it will be for parties to agree an ambitious, legally binding, and enforceable agreement.

What is David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) doing?

A DSWF representative is attending COP 15 and will be working with governments and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to push for an ambitious agreement. Given the huge scope of the convention, we will be focusing on two of the targets that will be agreed as part of the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. In particular, we will be actively engaged in discussions on target 5 in an attempt to limit the exploitation, trade and use of wild species, and on target 9, where we will be focused on ensuring the target recognises that the exploitation of wildlife as a major driver of biodiversity loss.

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