A Puffin prepares to fly in the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, England. Image: Charlie Marshall, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

World - COP15: Why the world needs a new deal to protect nature

The UN summit, taking place in Canada this December, aims to finalise a new global agreement to halt and reverse nature loss by mid-century.

Hard on the heels oif the fractious COP27 climate talks in Egypt, exhausted environmentalists are shifting their attention to another upcoming UN green summit, known as COP15.

At the Dec. 7-19 gathering in Montreal, about 195 countries will be tasked with finalising a new global biodiversity deal to halt damage to plants, animals and ecosystems - similar to the 2015 Paris Agreement to tackle climate change.

Hit by pandemic delays and moved from China due to Covid-19 restrictions, negotiations on the nature protection pact took place in March and June, but observers have been frustrated by their slow progress.

Boosting conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, is seen as crucial to safeguarding the ecosystems on which humans depend and to limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.

Here’s what to expect from COP15 - the 15th conference of parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) - and what it aims to achieve:

What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

Signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and later ratified by about 195 countries - not including the United States - the UN convention is designed to safeguard plant and animal species, and ensure natural resources are used in sustainable ways.

It also seeks “fair and equitable sharing” of the benefits from natural genetic material, used in everything from medicines to new crop varieties.

That means ensuring indigenous people and countries that are home to biological riches gain from their exploitation.

The very future of life on Earth hangs in the balance. This COP15 is the chance for governments to show they can commit to meaningful action to save nature, thereby saving ourselves.
Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy, Wildlife Conservation Society

“COP15 is absolutely vital to reversing the nature crisis we’re witnessing,” said Margaret Kuhlow, finance lead at green group WWF International.

“This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for – for world leaders to finally come together and agree on the next decade of conservation targets and take actions to reverse biodiversity loss to protect and preserve our life on Earth,” she added.

China holds the COP15 presidency, although the summit will take place in Montreal, the seat of the CBD secretariat, as Beijing continues to grapple with Covid-19.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will attend COP15, despite China’s plan not to invite heads of state - a decision criticised by green groups. Chinese President Xi Jinping is not expected to go.

Why is improving nature protection so important?

People depend on nature, from oceans to wildernesses, to supply them with clean air and water - and to regulate rainfall that is vital for growing food crops. When ecosystems are harmed, their basic life support services can falter, scientists say.

And because plants absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide to grow, strengthening conservation is widely seen as one of the cheapest and most effective ways to slow climate change.

But forests and other ecosystems are still being destroyed, often to expand agriculture and production of commodities like palm oil, soybeans and beef, to feed a growing world population.

“Human activities are causing the largest loss of life on Earth since the extinction of dinosaurs,” said Toerris Jaeger, head of the Rainforest Foundation Norway.

“Our behaviour and the way we produce and consume are putting at least 1 million species at risk of extinction according to science, more than ever before in human history.”

What is COP15 aiming to achieve?

The summit hopes to set both long-term nature-protection goals for mid-century, as well as shorter-term targets for 2030, and to push for those to be enshrined in national policies.

That mostly did not happen with previous global targets to slash biodiversity loss, set in 2002 and 2010, which were largely missed. They also suffered from a lack of finance.

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