Major UN biodiversity summit delayed for third time due to pandemic

Major UN biodiversity summit delayed for third time due to pandemic

Major UN biodiversity summit delayed for third time due to pandemic

Cop15 negotiations to set this decade’s targets on nature to be split into two, with face-to-face meetings delayed until 2022

Migrating cranes in a rice paddy in Jiangxi province in China. The Chinese ministry of ecology and environment has announced a third delay to the UN's Cop15 biodiversity summit in Kunming.

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Last modified on Wed 18 Aug 2021 11.45 EDT

A key United Nations biodiversity summit has been delayed for a third time due to the pandemic, the Chinese environment ministry has announced, as environmentalists pledged the delay would “not mean taking our foot off the pedal”.

In a statement, the Chinese ministry of ecology and environment confirmed that Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, would be delayed, and that negotiations for this decade’s targets will be split into two phases so that governments can meet face-to-face in Kunming, China, in the first half of 2022.

The talks had been scheduled for October this year after two previous delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase of the meeting, which will be largely procedural, will be held in the Chinese city between 11 and 15 October, with most people attending virtually. Countries will then negotiate the targets for the global biodiversity framework that governments will aim to meet by the end of the decade in Kunming from 25 April to 8 May 2022.

The draft text of the framework includes proposals to reduce pesticide use by two-thirds, eliminate plastic pollution and protect 30% of the Earth’s land and sea.

In a statement, the Chinese environment ministry said it would continue to work with the UN to overcome the impact of the pandemic and fulfil its obligations as a host country.

Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China who has been following the biodiversity negotiations closely, said: “Given the urgency of the biodiversity crisis, the decision to delay talks is not ideal. But in light of the global pandemic and the need for face-to-face negotiations, it is an inevitable choice.

“Today’s decision does not mean a negotiation holiday. In light of the flaws in the recently released first draft, much work still needs to be done to address the implementation and support deficit in the CBD.

“The partial convening of Cop15 in October must demonstrate ambitious leadership. It should be a high level opportunity to provide real impetus to the Kunming process.

“China needs to understand that much of the responsibilities for the success of Cop15 are on its shoulder now. It needs to rise up, otherwise the global nature protection agenda will fall.”

Q&AWhat is the Kunming biodiversity conference?Show

Hundreds of biodiversity experts and government ministers are expected to negotiate new targets on biodiversity at a UN meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming. The aim of the accord, “a Paris agreement for nature”, is to stop and reverse rampant biodiversity loss around the world. The Cop15 summit was due to take place in October 2021 after two delays but has been postponed again until April 2022.

Why is it a big deal?
In 2017 scientists said humans were causing the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. Now the UN has reported that the world has failed to meet a single target agreed a decade ago to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.

Are only governments worried?
No. At the 2020 World Economic Forum, business leaders said biodiversity loss was the third biggest risk to the world in terms of likelihood and severity, ahead of diseases, terrorism and interstate conflict.

What might the Kunming agreement look like?
In January, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity published a 20-point draft of the agreement. It commits signatories to protect at least 30% of the planet, control invasive species and reduce pollution from plastic waste and excess nutrients by 50%. But critics say this does not go far enough.

Is this agreement part of a long-term plan?
Yes. The UN’s overarching plan is that humanity should be living in harmony with nature by 2050. The 2030 goals relate to that ambition in five ways: ensuring no net losses in the integrity and size of freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems; reducing the number of species threatened with extinction; enhancing genetic diversity; achieving the targets of the Paris agreement; and sharing the benefits of genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

Zac Goldsmith, Britain’s minister for the environment, said: “We need to tackle the biodiversity crisis head on, and this delay will not mean taking our foot off the pedal. As president of the recent G7, we are encouraged to see major progress on finance for nature, on cleaning up global supply chains, on efforts to tackle deforestation and with the global commitment to protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. The upcoming G20 meeting gives us a chance to build on that momentum ahead of Cop26 later this year. We will continue to press countries to join us in ramping up efforts to protect and restore nature.”

Brian O’Donnell, director of Campaign for Nature, said: “It is critically important for all parties and civil society to equitably participate in the development of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and we must stand in solidarity with all people battling the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. There is no pause button for biodiversity loss. Human destruction of nature continues unabated, and governments do not need to wait for a global deal to take action and redirect finance to urgently protect our planet.”

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said the delay was understandable but the crisis in the natural world had not been put on hold. In November, the UK will host the UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.

Speight said: “Our leaders must take this opportunity for the UK to live up to our ambition to show global leadership on the environment … and use this time to start to put the words and commitments of the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature into domestic action. This will send a powerful message to the international community that our words are being backed by urgent action to revive our world with clear, legally binding targets to halt and reverse the wildlife decline in the UK by 2030.”

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