COP15 update: a Monumental Task Begins in Montréal

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) – The fifteenth conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), better known as COP15, began in Montréal, Canada on December 7th.  Members of the public could be forgiven some confusion, with the climate crisis-focused COP27 having ended just over two weeks ago.  Biodiversity has long played second fiddle to climate change in the public discourse and is also a sorely neglected investment theme.  However, there is a growing understanding of nature’s massive impact on the climate and the fact that almost half of global GDP depends on ecosystem resources that are under serious threat.

    Orgy of destruction

    United Nations (UN) secretary general António Guterres opened the conference in his characteristically direct style, urging humanity to put an end to its “orgy of destruction.”  The stakes could not be higher, with scientific evidence that we are on the verge of an “age of extinction.”  The broad goal of the conference is to agree on the preservation of 30% of the planet for nature by 2030.  This “30×30” target is considered to be a critical threshold to avoid disastrous tipping points.  Some campaigners believe the target to be too low, although it does have the benefit of simplicity like its climate equivalent of 1.5 degrees.

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    Originally scheduled to take place in October 2020 in Kunming, China, COP15 was postponed several times due to the covid pandemic before finally being relocated to Canada.  In the meantime, NordSIP ran a series of introductory biodiversity articles on the basics of the topic, biodiversity-related risks, the metrics available to measure these and a look at nature-positive action that investors can take.  These COPs only last for a couple of weeks and are therefore meant to be a final opportunity for delegates to iron out the last details in a draft agreement that has been heavily worked on in the preceding months.  It was therefore surprising to find out earlier this year that preparatory work was so far behind that major NGOs felt compelled to write an open letter to the United Nations sounding the alarm after the last working group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

    A bloated draft agreement weighed down by disagreements

    It is hoped that the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) will have a similar impact to that of the Paris climate agreement signed in 2016.  The working group tasked with drafting the GBF has met five times since its formation at COP14 in 2019.  Unfortunately, the group’s “zero draft” has now grown from 2,800 words to over 9,000 with more than 700 sets of brackets.  These brackets are significant in that they are used for sections of wording on which the parties cannot yet agree.  An informal group was set up to simplify the text ahead of COP15, but as this procedure had not been agreed by all parties, delegates will now have to consider both the Nairobi draft and the simplified version side-by-side.  The high number of remaining brackets means that the conference delegates have a monumental task ahead to finalise the GBF by the end of COP15 on December 19th.  Keen-eyed observers will therefore appreciate Carbon Brief’s highly detailed interactive COP15 text progress tracker.

    Measurement, funding and implementation are key priorities

    Just as it is for climate change, translating high level, longer-term global targets into concrete national actions will be crucial to the success of any biodiversity framework.  Unfortunately, the variety and complexity of the ecosystem services and natural resources under consideration make it very hard to produce meaningful equivalents of the carbon related Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  The qualitative and quantitative measurement of nature is the urgent focus of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, the World Resources Institute and many other non-governmental organisations and initiatives. 

    While measurable and quantifiable targets are essential for this framework, some environmental activists argue that the very idea of assigning a dollar value to every aspect of nature is symptomatic of the cause of the crisis in the first place.  Nevertheless, most agree that large amounts of capital must be directed in the short-term to nature conservation and restoration.  The European Union (EU) has already pledged EUR 7 billion for the period until 2027, but only a handful of member nations have similar public commitments.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is targeting nature-based investing to exceed USD 380 billion within the next two years.  Ahead of COP15, the EU announced on December 6th a new law prohibiting the sale of products linked to deforestation.  Another key element of any final agreement will be the recognition of the crucial role of indigenous peoples and local communities in protecting nature.  COP15 delegates have a massive task ahead of them, and NordSIP will endeavour to provide summary updates along the way.

    Image courtesy of Santiago Endara from Pixabay
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