‘We cannot afford to wait’: UN confirms COP15 Biodiversity Summit to relocate to Canada

Hopes this year could see the adoption of an international treaty to safeguard nature have been given a major boost, after the UN officially confirmed today that the crucial biodiversity talks are to be moved from Covid-hit China to Canada, with the COP15 Summit now pencilled in for December in Montreal.

As widely rumoured yesterday, organizing body the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has now confirmed the decision to relocate the summit after a meeting at its bureau headquarters in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi this morning, with the crucial COP15 talks now scheduled for 5- 17 December.

It follows ongoing concerns about hosting the summit in China, amid reports the Chinese government was considering postponing the talks for a fifth time, potentially until next year, due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

Despite the decision to relocate the event, China will still act as official host of the Summit in Montreal, the CBD’s executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema confirmed.

“I thank the government of Canada, as the host of the Secretariat, for providing a venue in Montreal for this crucial meeting,” she said. “I want to thank the government of China for their flexibility and continued commitment to advancing our path towards an ambitious post 2020 global biodiversity framework. I look forward, with the support of all parties, to successful outcomes of COP15.”

The COP15 Summit was originally set to take place in October 2020, but has faced repeated delays and was later split into a two-part event as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with part one of the Summit held virtually from Kunming last autumn.

However, the urgent need to finalise an international committing countries to take bolder action to combat nature loss – akin to the Paris Agreement on climate change – has only grown over the past two years, and as such CBD had faced pressure to find an alternative means of hosting the second part of the COP15 Summit as soon as practicable.

Part one of the Summit last year saw the finalisation of the Kunming Declaration, as well as the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, which saw China’s President Xi Jinping commit to investing 1.5bn yuan (£182m) in nature protection.

COP15 President and China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu reiterated the country’s “continued strong commitment” to work with all parties to ensure the success of the second part of COP15 “including the adoption of an effective Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and to promote its delivery throughout its Presidency.”

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault voiced his “great pride” at hosting the summit in Montreal, but stressed the “urgent need for international partners to halt and reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity worldwide.”

“With up to one million species currently at risk of extinction worldwide, the world cannot afford to wait any longer for global action on nature protection,” he said. “Canada will continue to advocate for international collaboration on an ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.”

It comes as pre-COP15 talks aimed at adopting a final negotiating text for a new global biodiversity treaty take place in Nairobi this week, amidst hopes governments could agree to international targets on conservation, measures to tackle drivers of biodiversity loss, and a potential timeframe for the implementation of national nature plans.

Green groups and business figures welcomed the decision to relocate the final part of the COP15 talks to Canada, and called for progress during the negotiations in Kenya this week.

Andrew Deutz, director of global policy, institutions and conservation finance at The Nature Conservancy, said he was “relieved and thankful that we have a firm date for these critically important biodiversity final negotiations within this calendar year”.

“Talks in Nairobi now need to focus on what and where agreements can be reached to install urgency and action into the recovery of nature,” he added.

Eva Zabey, executive director at Business for Nature, said the announcement provided a clear mandate to make “real progress” during the current negotiations in Nairobi.

“The momentum from progressive businesses calling for a transformative agreement on nature has never been higher,” she said. “We want to see a framework that sends a strong signal to business and finance to go further, faster. For example, through mandatory assessment and disclosure of their impacts and dependencies on nature and reforming all subsides to biodiversity.”

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