All about Montreal COP15 Biodiversity
From 7 to 19 December 2022, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) will start in Montreal. The aim of this conference is to enable international governments to take action to combat the biodiversity crisis. Ahead of the negotiations, we take a look at what is at stake at the summit. Why is this COP15 on biodiversity so important? Where do we stand on the subject of biodiversity and ecosystems? Why are the COPs on biodiversity making so little progress? What issues will be discussed at COP15?
COP15: what you need to know before the biodiversity COP - youmatter
At the Rio Summit in 1992, international governments established several international conventions to address environmental issues. Perhaps the best known is the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provides for the regular organisation of COPs (Conferences of the Parties) bringing together international leaders to discuss climate issues. But there is another fundamental convention signed in 1992: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
This convention acknowledges the crisis facing the world's ecosystems: degradation of natural environments, disappearance of biodiversity, loss of natural resources, etc. It sets up a system of COPs, like the COPs on climate change, which meet periodically to define targets and objectives and agree on strategies to better preserve ecosystems and biodiversity.
COP15, originally scheduled to take place in China in 2019, has been postponed several times due to the Covid-19 crisis. It will finally take place from 7 December in Montreal, to advance negotiations on global biodiversity issues.
Why is this COP15 on biodiversity fundamental?
This COP is probably one of the most important environmental summits in years. First of all, because biodiversity is a key issue that receives far less media attention than the climate crisis, even though the implications of the disappearance of biodiversity are enormous. The biodiversity crisis and the degradation of ecosystems have direct consequences for our health, our agricultural productivity, our economies and industries such as pharmaceuticals. Globally, these crises call into question the ability of our societies to survive and develop on Earth. The issue of biodiversity and ecosystems is also at the crossroads of all the other ecological crises: the biodiversity crisis is fuelling climate change, affecting water and air quality, and the resilience of our territories…
This COP is also fundamental because of its timing. It comes after the end of the negotiation cycle started in 2010 in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, which defined objectives and a strategy for the period 2010-2020. The Montreal negotiations must therefore establish a new roadmap for international action for biodiversity for the period 2020-2030. The negotiations should result in a framework agreement that will guide international action, similar to the Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015.
Where do we stand on the subject of biodiversity and ecosystems?
This is a truly pivotal period: the latest IPBES reports (the IPCC on biodiversity) have shown that the crisis is accelerating and that the next few years will be decisive if we want to preserve the conditions for a sustainable life for humanity. The decisions taken at COP15 will therefore have major implications for environmental protection in the coming years.
During the cycle that is ending with the Aichi Accords, progress has been far too slow. The report published by the Convention in 2019 showed that none of the twenty Aichi Targets had been achieved: neither the halving of the loss of natural habitats, nor the end of subsidies for products that are harmful to biodiversity, nor the protection of 17% of terrestrial areas and 10% of marine areas... The situation is therefore catastrophic: every year, scientific reports show that more and more species are disappearing, that environmental contamination (particularly from pesticides) is becoming more widespread, and that ecosystems are eroding. The IPBES announced that by the end of the century, nearly one million living species could have disappeared.
Why are the COPs on biodiversity making so little progress?
Biodiversity is an extremely complex issue that affects all human activities. Unlike global warming, for which it is "enough" to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, action to preserve biodiversity involves working on multiple indicators, through actions whose effects are not always directly measurable. It is necessary to manage the conservation of environments, improve air, water and soil quality, fight global warming, act against soil artificialisation, change our agricultural and forestry management methods, our cultural practices, etc. It is therefore more difficult to find simple, identifiable action levers that can be agreed upon.
This complexity no doubt partly explains why biodiversity issues are given much less media coverage than climate issues, and why world leaders are less involved in these issues. In 2018, at COP14, which was held (like COP27 on climate) in Sharm-el-Sheikh, few heads of state made the trip: France was represented by its Minister of Ecological Transition at the time, Emmanuelle Wargon. On the other hand, the international context since 2019 has not really favoured dialogue on the subject of biodiversity: Covid-19, then the invasion of Ukraine or inflation, have pushed the COP negotiations into the background. The intermediate working sessions that took place in Geneva in 2022 received little media coverage and did not lead to much progress. The voluntary sector felt that the negotiations were progressing at a "glacial pace".
What issues will be discussed at COP15?
In 2018, COP14 made it possible to make progress on the voluntary commitments of States in terms of biodiversity protection, and emphasised the need to coordinate action on biodiversity with that on climate or the fight against desertification and deforestation. It also discussed the role of local communities, especially indigenous ones, in protecting ecosystems.
This year, four issues will be particularly important.
- The definition of more ambitious protection targets, around the 30/30 programme
The Aichi targets provided for the establishment of protected areas on 17% of land and 10% of marine areas. The texts discussed in Geneva set a more ambitious target: 30% on land and at sea. This is the idea behind the 30/30 programme: 30% protected areas by 2030. The issue is crucial because scientific data, particularly from the IPBES, confirms that the establishment of protected areas, managed sustainably and free from human disturbance, is one of the most effective levers for preserving ecosystems and biodiversity.
Recent studies argue for even higher figures, and estimate that we should aim for around 50% of the planet to be a protected area in order to take real action against the erosion of biodiversity and the crisis of ecosystems. However, these areas should not be chosen at random, and they should correspond to eco-regions rich in biodiversity or critical from an ecosystem point of view. Moreover, these regions are not evenly distributed across the planet, and the protection effort should therefore weigh more heavily on certain states. Costa Rica could be required to protect more than 70% of its territory, Brazil more than 50%... Russia, Canada, Australia, China and the United States would be among the countries required to make the greatest protection efforts.
Reaching an ambitious agreement on this subject will certainly be complex, as the protection of natural areas often conflicts with resource exploitation projects (forestry, mining, agriculture, marine, etc.), which are often an economic priority for these countries. Although many countries have good intentions on this subject, negotiations are likely to be difficult in reality, and it will be necessary to define what is meant by a protected area.
- Setting up an international financing plan for biodiversity protection
As in the case of climate change, financing is a key issue in the fight against the biodiversity crisis, and an issue that divides rich and poor countries. Indeed, most of the natural areas rich in biodiversity (sometimes called hotspots) are located in poor or developing countries, while most rich countries have already largely degraded their biodiversity and local ecosystems. According to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, rich countries should in theory contribute financially to protection efforts in poor countries. A fund should therefore be created and maintained to finance conservation, restoration or transition projects.
A group of countries including African, South American and Asian nations is pushing for the adoption of a specific fund, to be financed to the tune of 100 billion per year, rising to 700 billion by 2030. But who will pay? What will the funds be used for? With what kind of controls? All these questions must be formalised in the future agreement.
- The issue of ending subsidies for products that are harmful to biodiversity
Another fundamental issue is subsidies for harmful products. Today, most countries in the world continue to subsidise products or production models that degrade biodiversity and ecosystems: fossil fuels, pesticides and certain agricultural models, for example. The pre-discussions in Geneva called for a reduction of 500 billion per year in these subsidies at the international level. The voluntary sector, on the other hand, advocates an end to subsidies for these products.
Here again, it is not easy to reach a consensus, as domestic policies often depend on these subsidies. In France and Europe, we can cite the Common Agricultural Policy which, although the new CAP has made progress in environmental matters, continues to subsidise agricultural practices that are not always very virtuous. We could also mention the massive subsidies received by the fossil fuel industries, which continue despite the climate crisis.
- The issue of the framework for Digital Sequence Information (DSI), i.e. access to genetic resources of biodiversity
Finally, the issue of ISN will certainly be debated at COP15. Digital Sequence Information, a technical term for a subject that is just as technical, refers to questions relating to the DNA sequencing of living organisms and its possible regulation.
Who can sequence (and patent?) genetic resources from the world's biodiversity? Under what conditions should access to these essential resources be opened up? How should the profits generated by the industries that rely on this sequencing be redistributed? Behind this subject, there is the broader issue of the commodification of life and the privatisation of biological resources. The agreements that will be reached in Montreal could serve as a basis for the constitution of a body of regulations on this subject... A fundamental question for the future.
Other subjects such as awareness raising, the role of indigenous populations or minorities in the protection of biodiversity or the measurement of impact on biodiversity will certainly be discussed. In any case, this COP promises to be a pivotal summit. With only a few days to go, it is difficult to say whether it will be as successful as the Paris Agreement, or whether it will have the same fate as COP15 on climate change, which was held in Copenhagen in 2009 and is remembered as one of the biggest disappointments of international environmental negotiations.
Find out more...