UN’s Kunming biodiversity summit delayed a second time

Covid pandemic continues to hamper plans for key gathering to agree targets on protecting nature

A key United Nations summit to negotiate an accord for nature similar to the Paris climate agreement has been postponed for a second time, it has been announced.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) said in a a statement that Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, had been moved to October due to delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. The negotiations in Kunming, China, had been scheduled for May after they were moved from October 2020.

Countries are expected to reach an agreement over targets to protect the natural world, including proposals to conserve 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030, introduce controls on invasive species and reduce plastics pollution.

At Cop15 – the 15th conference of the parties to the UN convention on biological diversity – governments will negotiate new targets to protect biodiversity for this decade. The accord, “a Paris agreement for nature”, aims to slow rampant biodiversity loss around the world and is part of the UN’s overarching plan that humanity should be living in harmony with nature by 2050. The summit was originally due to take place in Kunming, China, in October 2020 but after several delays the first face-to-face meeting is scheduled for December 2022 in Montreal, Canada.

Why is it a big deal?
Time is running out to take action. An international group of scientists, including Prof Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, warned in January 2021 that the planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival. The world has failed to meet a single target agreed a decade ago to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.

Are only governments worried?
No. At the 2021 World Economic Forum, business leaders said biodiversity loss was the third biggest existential, or long-term, threat to the world and was among the top five risks in terms of impact, alongside infectious diseases, climate action failure, weapons of mass destruction and natural resource crises.

What might the Kunming agreement look like?
In January 2021, the UN convention on biological diversity published a 21-point draft of the agreement. It commits signatories to protect at least 30% of the planet, control invasive species and reduce pollution from plastic waste and excess nutrients by 50%. Governments are yet to negotiate properly on the draft targets. 

Scientists have warned that agricultural production, mining and pollution are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, with human activity threatening the healthy functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems.

The UN biodiversity head, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said the summit would take place from 11-24 October 2021, but hinted that further delays might be necessary because of the pandemic.

The world has never met a single UN target to stem the destruction of wildlife and the natural world, failing to meet any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010 to protect coral reefs, remove government subsidies that damage nature, and tackle pollution. It was the second consecutive decade that governments failed to meet targets.

Cop15 will be the first time China has led the world in a major international agreement on the environment.

Links between the destruction of the natural world and the emergence of zoonotic diseases have been amplified during the coronavirus pandemic, with increased awareness about humanity’s destruction of nature. But parties to the CBD have not been able to carry out scientific and preparatory work before Cop15, with some states objecting to online negotiations. The UN said it was working with regional representatives to find a solution so the meetings could take place before the Kunming summit.

Ahead of the talks, a coalition of more than 50 countries has committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030, including the UK, France and Costa Rica. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People says it is hoping to drive a far-reaching agreement at Kunming.

In May 2019, leading scientists warned that, due to human activity, the natural world is being destroyed at a rate hundreds of times higher than the average for the previous 10m years.

The destruction of the planet’s rainforests, coral reefs and other vital ecosystems have placed humanity in jeopardy, with the report’s authors warning of “ominous” consequences such as freshwater shortages and climate instability unless radical action is taken to protect biodiversity.

In November, the UK will host the UN Cop26 climate summit, seen as one of the last chances to get on track to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features


Patrick Greenfield

The GuardianTramp

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