Five things to know about COP15 biodiversity


"The COP of the decade". This is the expression used by the Sherpas of the international negotiations on COP15 Biodiversity, which is scheduled to kick off today in Montreal, Canada.

The expectation is all the greater as the event, chaired and organized this time by China, has been postponed three times since 2019, due to the Covid pandemic.

While many observers regret that the importance of COP15 was not mentioned in the final declaration of COP27 in Egypt, some were reassured by the joint declaration of the heads of state present at the last G20, on 15 and 16 November, in Bali, Indonesia. "We call on the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to adopt an ambitious, balanced, pragmatic, effective, robust, and transformative post-2020 strategy at COP15 in Montreal," the document states.

A belated but welcome political portage in view of the reality on the ground: according to the IPBES, the "IPCC of biodiversity", out of 8 million plant and animal species identified, 1 million of them are threatened with extinction. This observation is all the more alarming when we know that nature contributes largely to the regulation of the climate, which is already in bad shape.

So how is COP15 biodiversity decisive for the future of the planet? What are its objectives? What difficulties are in sight in the negotiations? Elements of answers.

1. This COP is as important as the climate COP

Since the Rio Summit of 1992, under the aegis of the UN, conferences of the parties (the famous "COP"), have been organized for international negotiations dedicated to various environmental themes (climate, desertification, biodiversity, etc.). If the climate COPs are the most publicized, those dealing with biodiversity, less known to the general public, are also important.

Organized under the auspices of the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the main purpose of the biodiversity COPs is to establish agreements and action plans to protect the world's natural ecosystems.

Climate change, increasing urbanization, and the industrial overexploitation of natural resources are accelerating the loss of biodiversity, both plant, and animal. These resources are essential to the survival of humanity on Earth. Especially in terms of food and health.

"This is why all COPs are interdependent. The climate crisis is fuelling the biodiversity crisis and vice versa," says Pierre Cannet, WWF France's Director of Advocacy and Campaigns.

2. Its challenge: 1 million endangered species

"Like climate, the state of biodiversity is shaped by sound science. And unfortunately, these are not good... ", warns the WWF executive.

According to the latest census conducted in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), out of 8 million plant and animal species identified, 1 million of them are threatened with extinction. Another alarming statistic: between 1970 and 2018, the average size of wild vertebrate populations declined by 69% according to WWF.

In 2010, the twenty "Aichi Targets" for 2020 were supposed to tackle the problem. These included reducing the rate of loss of natural habitats worldwide by at least half and safeguarding the biodiversity of 17% of terrestrial areas and inland waters (10% of marine and coastal areas).

"But it is clear that they have clearly not been reached. That is why COP15 is absolutely crucial. An unprecedented agreement, commensurate with the urgency, must be reached. In this sense, it could be comparable to that of COP21 for the climate in 2015," says Pierre Cannet.

3. Its stated goal is to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030

If, according to the WWF expert, "the current text, in pre-negotiation, still contains 1,500 brackets", the objectives of this framework agreement must be up to the challenge. The first of all: halting the current collapse of biodiversity and sanctuarizing 30% of the world's land and seas by 2030.

This lever of protected areas is largely pushed by scientific reference organizations, such as IPBES or IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) because its effectiveness has already proven itself in the past. Some regions of the globe, endowed with gigantic reservoirs of biodiversity, such as the Amazon rainforest in South America or Africa (especially the Great Congo Basin), could see their natural areas more protected.

But defining these protected areas is far from easy. Their natural resources are intrinsically linked to the economic activity of the forestry, mining, agricultural or marine industries. The lobbies of these sectors are therefore likely to exert significant pressure at this COP in order to assert their interests.

WWF's advocacy officer in France adds two other objectives necessary for the effectiveness of this future agreement: "In addition to safeguarding nature, the final text will have to define a concrete action plan to restore natural ecosystems on the one hand, and reduce the human ecological footprint on the other. WWF is campaigning for it to fall by 50% by 2030. This will involve limiting mining, switching to more reasoned agriculture, or eating less meat. »

4. Its other objective is to develop a

"One of the reasons why the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have not been met is the lack of an effective implementation mechanism," says Pierre Cannet.

Contributions from countries in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, raising climate ambitions, transparency of negotiations, and these modalities of action have contributed to the effectiveness of the Paris Climate Agreement. "COP15 biodiversity must absolutely have this mechanism to see its roadmap respected by countries," insists Pierre Cannet.

Agreeing on a common methodology to measure biodiversity will also be crucial during this COP. According to experts, the challenge is daunting: quantifying natural ecosystems is more complex than climate. The latter has a clearer key indicator: CO2 emissions.

5. It should recommend mobilizing $700 billion

In an interview with the Canadian online media "L'actualité", Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CBD, recalled: "The framework of this COP seeks to find 700 billion dollars by 2030, but some studies indicate that the amount needed to preserve biodiversity is even higher."

Just like the last climate conferences, the mobilization of the new funding will also be one of the major challenges of this biodiversity COP. The subject is also giving rise to the same tensions as at COP27: developing countries, more impacted by the erosion of biodiversity than rich countries, are demanding major financial support from the latter.

"We must keep in mind that the largest reservoirs of biodiversity are located in developing countries. As long as this funding is not mobilized, these states will not be encouraged to protect their reservoirs of biodiversity," the NGO framework analyzes.

Another economic argument should underpin the negotiations of this COP: according to a World Bank report published in July 2021, "the collapse of certain ecosystem services provided by nature (wild pollination, food from marine fisheries and timber from natural forests, in particular) could reduce global gross domestic product (GDP) by $ 2.7 trillion per year by 2030".