Kunming: what’s needed to make this year’s biodiversity summit a success

This post is by Stanley Johnson, international ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network.

The date of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) has still to be confirmed.  It was originally scheduled to be held in Kunming, China in the second quarter of this year (having been postponed from 2020), but it seems increasingly likely that an autumn date will be preferred in view of the continuing disruption caused by Covid 19. At the moment, the second half of October this year seems to be the favourite option, but the final decision must obviously rest with the host country, China.

The world is waking up
COP15, whenever it happens, will be the culmination of an extraordinary succession of meetings which has brought biodiversity to the front of the international stage.  At last, the world seems to have woken up to the fact that we have been trashing nature for far too long. What is more, in doing so, we are undermining the very foundations of our own health, wealth and happiness.

Last September, on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the president of the General Assembly convened the UN Biodiversity Summit under the theme ‘Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development’.  On that occasion political leaders from 64 countries adopted a ‘Leaders’ pledge for nature: united to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for sustainable development’.

That pledge included the following crucial words: “We commit to the development and full implementation of an ambitious and transformational post-2020 global biodiversity framework for adoption at the 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) as a key instrument to reach the Sustainable Development Goals”.

On 11 January this year, France, in co-operation with the United Nations and the World Bank, organised the One Planet Summit for biodiversity, aiming to advance the protection of nature. This was also the occasion for launching the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People. One commitment adopted by the 52 states, brought together by the coalition, is to work for the protection of 30 per cent of terrestrial and marine spaces by 2030 (known as the 30×30 commitment).

On the same occasion, Prince Charles launched his own Terra Carta Climate Recovery Plan, to mobilise the private sector ‘for nature, people and the planet’ calling, among other things, for 30 per cent of biodiversity on land and under water to be protected by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2050.

The current Zero draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework is dated 17 August, 2020. It will be discussed at a third and final meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group later this year, possibly in Colombia in early summer.

Four major improvements are needed to the draft framework
In addition to renaming the document as The Kunming plan for nature and people, as proposed by WWF, and without being in any way exhaustive, some areas where the draft could be improved have been identified by governments, NGOs and others.  They include:

(a) redrafting the 2030 mission statement to ensure that the concept of ‘halting and reversing’ the loss of biodiversity, as endorsed by the leaders’ statement, is explicitly retained.

(b) ensuring that the 30×30 commitment is also retained and extended to include Prince Charles’s further target (protect 50 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity by 2050.)

(c) a clear recognition of the importance of nature based solutions to climate change, backed up by some specific quantitative targets. The January 2020 draft of the Framework suggested, for example, that “nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches might contribute [about 30%] [at least XXX MT CO2=] of the mitigation effort needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement”, but that language had disappeared in the August 2020 text. It should be reinstated.

(d) introduce a ratchet mechanism aiming to ensure that National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NSAPs) are revised and updated to meet the new targets. There must also be effective reporting and review mechanisms.

Important Environment Bill amendments still on the table
We must hope that UK and other negotiators will press hard on these and other points in the coming weeks and months.

In his speech at the UN Biodiversity Summit last September, the prime minister noted that the UK had not only signed the Leaders’ Pledge.  He added: “At home we’re putting biodiversity targets into law; removing deforestation from our own supply chains; shifting our land use subsidies to support rather than damage nature.”

The Environment Bill, of course, has not yet been adopted. Some important amendments still lie on the table. New clause 5 (NC5), for example, tabled by a cross party group of MPs, aims to put into the bill the prime minister’s aim of reversing the loss of habitats and species by 2030. The amendment, if adopted, would also place a duty on the secretary of state to set out such a target and deliver it.  Passing the bill in time for COP15 would be a splendidly useful send off for Lord Goldsmith, the UK’s minister for biodiversity, as he heads for Kunming.

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