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The World COP – why a win on nature needs to be coming home

Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

COP15 (aka the 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference) kicked off last week in Montreal, Canada. Initially scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in 2020, the meeting has been postponed several times due to the Covid pandemic, and an initial “first half” of the conference took place virtually in October 2021 – at which the Kunming declaration on biodiversity was signed by over 100 nations.  

While some will be glued to a significant sporting tournament underway in Qatar, the world’s climate change community are engaged in another kick-about. Focused on halting and reversing biodiversity loss, this COP15 summit is dedicated to nature protection. Global biodiversity has been declining at an alarming rate with WWF’s recent study estimating that the world has lost 69% of its animal populations over the past fifty years. Even more troubling, its estimated that extinction rates of animal and plant species are between 100 to 1,000 times higher than would occur naturally. One of the goals of this summit is to set a binding target to reverse this loss by 2030 – that’s just 8 years to turn it around.   

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, who is the UN’s lead on biodiversity, sums it up like this: “Our life is dependent on biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides. It is the food we eat; it is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the carbon storage we need, the medicines we need.”  Quite the half-time talk needed to drive home the importance of nature to humankind.  

The latest “State of Finance for Nature” report published by the UN Environment Programme this month found that financing for nature protection would need to increase from $154 billion a year today to $384 billion by 2025 to meet the world’s existing biodiversity and climate change goals. Last year, the Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta published his own comprehensive biodiversity study. It found that the financial services sector had not historically factored nature into decision-making despite the fact that over half of the world’s GDP is reliant on nature.  

So back to the game… The “second half” of COP15, which is now underway, has China as the president of the summit, but is hosted in Canada due to China’s zero-Covid policy. We are now at the critical point of the negotiations involving environment ministers of the 196 members of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).    

The delegates have been negotiating over a Paris-style agreement on nature. Dubbed an ambitious “peace pact”, there are 22 objectives which focus on how to stop the destruction of our natural world by the end of the decade. As it currently stands, only five of the objectives envisaged are settled. As with all COPs, despite the hours put in by some 5,000 delegates, the text is far behind schedule. Perhaps the world needs to borrow some “Fergie time”?  

You’ll be forgiven for not having heard too much about COP15. It’s certainly the smaller of the COP conferences, following closely in the footsteps of COP27 that took place in Sharm-El Sheik, Egypt, last month. There is far less fanfare for COP15, with fewer media organisations reporting from the ground, and nowhere near as many dignitaries in attendance. Only last week, 40 MPs called upon Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to attend the summit, but he has not made the trip, relying instead on a ministerial delegation from the Cabinet Office and DEFRA.  

A combination of low expectations, low hype and low attendance make the prospect of signing a binding, landmark treaty on nature protection all the more unlikely. 

The final whistle will be blown on the conference on Monday 19th December, by which time agreement will hopefully have been reached on the binding commitments on the table. We really are into extra-time in the fight against climate change.