Oct 28, 2021
Everything You Need to Know about COP15 on Biodiversity
In case you missed it, phase one of arguably the most important global biodiversity meeting in a decade was held online from October 11 to 15, 2021. This meeting, known as the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held with the goal of setting a framework for global biodiversity post-2020.
China is the host nation of COP15, and though the first phase was held mostly online, the second phase of COP15 will be held in-person in Kunming, China from April 25 to May 9 2022.
Last week, we took a deep dive into biodiversity, why it's under threat, and what your company can do to protect it. In this post, we’ll be taking a look at COP15, what went down in phase one, and how your business can get ready for changes to come.
What is COP15 and the CBD?
To get everyone up to speed, here’s a brief rundown of what COP15 and CBD actually mean. In 1988, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) created a group of experts who met to explore the need for an international convention on biodiversity. Over the next few years, the group worked to create an international legal instrument with three objectives:
the conservation of biological diversity,
the sustainable use of its components, and
the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Their work culminated in the 1992 Rio "Earth Summit," where the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) treaty was opened for signature. Today, the CBD has been ratified by 195 countries and the EU, though notably not the US.
The Conference of Parties (COP) is the CBD’s governing body and consists of all the governments (or Parties) that have ratified the CBD. The first session of the Conference of Parties under the new CBD, aka COP1, took place in 1994 in the Bahamas. Since then, the COP has met every two years with the exception of COP15, which was postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily, the third time’s the charm.
Making things a bit a bit confusing, there are other COPs that meet for other purposes. In addition to COP Biodiversity, there is also a COP Climate and a COP Desertification. The COP on climate is arguably the best-known one: COP21 gave us the Paris Climate Agreement, and COP26 is currently underway in Glasgow.
Biodiversity and the climate hang in a delicate balance. A healthy ecosystem (y’know, one where its plant and animal species aren’t on the brink of extinction), is more capable of storing carbon. At the same time, reducing global warming also reduces the risk of species’ extinction. While the issues of biodiversity and climate change are intricately connected, however, the two COPs are independent of each other.
Why is COP15 so important?
Now that everyone’s on the same page, let’s take a look at why COP15 is particularly important. In 2010, COP10 was held in Japan and led to the creation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These 20 targets aimed to slow biodiversity loss and protect habitats by 2020.
Long story short, we failed. Epicly. None (0) of the 20 targets were met, and only six were even partially met.
This time around, we cannot afford to fail.
COP15 is meant to adopt a so-called "Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework" to outline what we need to do, on both an individual and collective basis, to achieve the CBD’s overall vision of "living in harmony with nature" by 2050. The new accord would essentially be a new Paris Climate Agreement, but for biodiversity.
There is debate over whether to set a top-level target for biodiversity, like the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C target, with opponents saying it’s impossible to capture the complexity of ecosystems and species in a single metric.
What actually happened during the first phase of COP15?
The first phase was held mostly over Zoom. Delegates met and reviewed the first draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to draw a blueprint for future conservation. Phase one also saw the adoption of the Kunming Declaration.
What is the Kunming Declaration?
The Kunming Declaration was adopted by over 100 countries during the High-Level Segment of COP15. In adopting the Kunming Declaration, countries have committed themselves to supporting the development, adoption, and implementation of an effective Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
The Kunming Declaration asserts that putting biodiversity on a path to recovery is a defining challenge of this decade and acknowledges that Indigenous people and local communities play a key role in conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity. The Declaration puts forth 17 commitments including:
Working across governments to make conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity more mainstream in decision-making, and integrating it into, among other things, policies and regulations;
Actively enhancing the environmental legal framework at both a global and national level and enhancing its enforcement to protect biodiversity, combat its illegal use, and respect, protect, and promote human rights obligations when taking actions to protect biodiversity; and
Ensuring that post-pandemic recovery policies, programs, and plans contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and promote sustainable and inclusive development.
The full Kunming Declaration can be viewed here.
What were other key topics at COP15?
While the overarching goal of COP15 is to set biodiversity on a path to recovery post-2020, some of the key issues raised during COP15 phase one included:
The 30x30 target
What is the 30x30 target?
One of the key topics of COP15 is the so-called 30x30 target, which is the goal of conserving 30% of the Earth’s land and seas by 2030. The 30x30 target is championed by 70 countries under the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which is co-chaired by Costa Rica and France.
This target is ambitious, but highly relevant. A 2019 global assessment found that humans have significantly altered around 75% of Earth’s land and had a strong negative impact on at least 40% of the ocean. As a result, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List estimates that roughly 25% of species across all species groups are threatened with extinction.
At the same time, the same global assessment found that only 15% of global land and freshwater, and just 7% of sea areas are protected. Despite those depressing numbers, many are against the 30x30 target.
Why? For three main reasons.
First, opponents say it’s unclear what the 30x30 target actually means. In other words, protect 30% of what exactly? The entire surface of the Earth? Both 30% of land and 30% of ocean? Does each country have to protect 30% of its territory? Some experts warn we could end up in a quantity over quality situation, where countries work to protect areas of little conservation value just to meet the 30% goal.
Another key issue is the rights of Indigenous people. Reserves usually work by excluding human activity. The 30x30 target encourages the expansion of protected areas and the worry is that doing so will infringe upon the rights of Indigenous people and local communities living in biodiverse regions.
Lastly, a 30% conservation goal is a one-size-fits-all target that could actually lead to more deforestation in countries like Indonesia and Brazil.
That said, nothing concrete in this regard will be decided until COP15 phase two in the spring.
Some new funding has been announced, but it’s not enough
Funding was a major issue during phase one of COP15. The current draft framework shows a financing gap of about €600 billion (US$700 billion).
Developing countries want to see more funding commitments coming from the governments of developed nations, as this is a more reliable funding source than non-state players and the private sector. The African Group of Negotiators stressed the need for a dedicated biodiversity fund.
Some new funding was announced during phase one. China announced about €200 million (US$230 million) in funding for biodiversity conservation in the developing world. Japan announced it would add a roughly €15 million (US$17 million) extension to its 2010 biodiversity fund. The UK pledged €236,000 (US$274,000) in extra funding for the CBD’s special voluntary trust fund.
Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron committed 30% of France’s climate funding towards biodiversity, and the UK said that a large part of its extra climate funding would be spent on biodiversity, but both of these commitments are essentially just the reallocation of existing climate change funds, rather than pledging additional money.
An implementation plan is crucial to meet new biodiversity targets
Implementation problems were largely to blame for our failure to reach the Aichi targets set in 2010. With COP15, it is clear that we need to do better this time around.
The EU called for an "effective monitoring framework" to ensure that targets are met. Such a framework would require nations to commit to following the format of the framework’s global targets, and the creation of a system to record those commitments. Doing so would allow us to calculate the gap between the sum of national biodiversity targets and the global goals.
However, many signatories aren’t on board.
What can we expect during Phase two of COP15?
Phase one has provided a roadmap for the effective negotiation of the framework, including the adoption of the Kunming Declaration. Phase two, set to take place starting in April 2022, will see broad and deepened negotiations toward an ambitious and practical framework for biodiversity protection.
What does this mean for your business?
If everything goes as planned, phase two of COP15 will lead to the adoption of a Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework that will include new targets, goals, and policy directives to protect biodiversity over the next 30 years. The new agreement has the potential to impact how companies operate, and how they can transform their business models. At the same time, the framework will lead to new business opportunities.
Of course, merely setting targets will not do much to help the 16,000 animal species threatened with extinction worldwide. Addressing the biodiversity crisis and making a difference will require business action. Companies have the resources, autonomy, technology and an ability to innovate that puts them in a unique position to have a positive impact.
The new Framework will in all likelihood lead to new, stricter environmental regulations and you will need to make changes to stay compliant. Your company can start by analyzing the important influencing factors on biodiversity along your entire value chain. Once you have a clear idea of your impacts, define strategies and guidelines to protect biodiversity, and set measurable, realistic goals based upon your analysis. Don’t forget to integrate your suppliers, customers, and all other stakeholders into your strategies.
Then comes arguably the most important part: following through on your plans. The best way to ensure success in meeting your targets is by upping your game in the sustainability management department.
That’s where we come in. SustainLab enables your company to set goals for protecting biodiversity and beyond. We offer a single platform to consistently track all your impacts so that sustainability can be factored into your everyday business decisions.
Contact us to learn more about how SustainLab can help you help the planet and all the plants and animals that call it home, for better business - better planet.