Why it's important to agree on biodiversity at COP15 in Montreal

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Montreal has to reach a consensus on new goals for the conservation of natural ecosystems, as well as animal and plant species.

Why it's important to agree on biodiversity at COP15 in Montreal
What needs to be agreed upon regarding biodiversity at COP15 in Montreal, and why this matters. Photo by Palle Knudsen on Unsplash

The COP15 meeting on the crisis of biodiversity is already going on. Those who are watching hope that this important summit will lead to something like the Paris Climate Agreement for biodiversity. A few weeks after the United Nations Climate Change Conference, this is the second most important environmental event of the year.

The COP15 meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity takes place in Montreal from Wednesday, December 7, to Monday, December 19. (Canada). One of the main things to talk about is biodiversity loss, which is just as dangerous for society as global warming. Four questions are answered to give a summary of what was talked about at the conference by Franceinfo.

Why should we care about biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the study of all living things and the natural world. Things are really bad. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which is like the IPCC for biodiversity, says that one million species are in danger of going extinct and that humans have changed 75% of natural areas. The main reasons for this are the growth of agriculture and cities, fishing, hunting, logging, global warming, pollution, especially from pesticides, and the spread of invasive species.

"We are destroying a large proportion of the living things on the planet, even though we are dependent on them because they provide us with a huge number of services," sums up Tatiana Giraud, a biologist at Paris-Saclay University and professor at the College de France. They enable people to eat, drink clean water, breathe clean air and stay healthy. They are also valuable allies in the fight against global warming.

The international community has not been able to solve this problem yet. The UN's Fifth World Biodiversity Report, which came out in 2018, says that none of the goals set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010 have been met (PDF).

What are the negotiating objectives at COP15 in Montreal?

At COP15 in Montreal, negotiations should agree on three key issues:

The overall framework

The Aichi goals for 2020–2030 will be put into place. These are broken up into about twenty goals, such as setting aside 30% of the world's land as protected areas, restoring 20% of the land that has been damaged, and reducing subsidies that hurt biodiversity, like those that pay for the use of pesticides in agriculture or industrial fishing.

"The system is well designed, and we are awaiting the final decision." "We want this agreement to be on a par with the Paris climate agreement," explains Sebastien Moncorps, Director of the French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Paul Leadley, an ecologist at the University of Paris-Saclay who has been involved in international negotiations since 2010, believes it is important to go beyond the creation of protected areas. "In recent years, we have introduced many measures, but pressures have also increased: habitat destruction, climate change, pesticides, invasive species," he says regretfully.

Along with setting goals, observers will pay close attention to how accurate the criteria are and how they will be monitored. As with climate change, these agreements are not binding because of each country's right to make its laws. "From a scientific point of view, we have high hopes for better monitoring." "We hope that, as with the Climate Convention, there will be indicators and observations to make sure we are on the right track," says Paul Leadley. "Even if the negotiations go as smoothly as a dream, there will always be questions about implementation," says Philippe Grandcolas, ecologist and CNRS Research Director.

Benefit sharing

There is a complicated issue behind this formula. Companies, often from rich, developed countries, use the genetic sequences of some species to make medicines, cosmetics, and other things. The goal of these talks is to find a way for the countries where these animals or plants live, which are mostly poor, to share in the benefits.

Access to data is important from a scientific point of view as well as from a business point of view. Less important, but not less important, is the debate about how benefits are given out. "Many countries are making their acceptance of the global system conditional on agreement on this issue," says Paul Leadley.

International funding

Lastly, just like with climate change, one of the most important parts of the talks will be how to pay for everything. Today, most of the world's biodiversity is found in countries that are still developing. "As in climate conferences, there is a North-South divide, with the South saying, "We are willing to make the effort, but we don't have your financial means," summarizes IUCN's Sébastien Moncorps.

The draft agreement foresees funding of 200 billion US dollars per year (192 billion euros), although the Biodiversity Research Fund estimates the need at 850 billion US dollars (€820 billion) (PDF). These figures should be compared with the amount that ecosystem services (pollination, climate regulation, air, and water purification, etc.) would cost us, according to the OECD: $125 000 to 140 000 billion (€120 to 135 000 billion).

IPBES Executive Secretary Anne Larigauder sums up: "We need an ambitious agreement with numbers, with the means to help developing countries, and to reduce incentives that harm biodiversity."

Why were the Heads of State not invited?

This COP15 is being put together in a very special way. It was supposed to happen in Kunming, China, in 2020, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it had to be moved twice. China, which is still hosting the event, wouldn't let it take place on its land because of how harshly it is fighting the pandemic.

The event is therefore being held in Montreal, where the Convention on Biological Diversity is based. However, the head of the host country will not attend. Relations between Canada and Beijing are rather chilly, but Xi Jinping has been reluctant to leave his country since 2020. Therefore, other heads of state were not invited.

Do the COP15 negotiations have a chance of success?

The blocking of the pre-Montreal negotiating sessions is causing many to lose enthusiasm. "It's difficult at the moment with Ukraine, which keeps us focused on energy," said Ecology Secretary Bérangère Couillard in October. She will represent France in Montreal alongside Christophe Béchu, Minister for Ecological Transition, and regrets the absence of heads of state, whose presence provides an opportunity to "achieve more ambitious things in general."

Anne Larigauder, who has been involved in previous negotiations, believes that "it is difficult to be optimistic in the light of the current document." "Everything is being discussed in a very harsh way, with contradictory proposals." "Many countries are opposed to numerical targets," says the Executive Secretary of Ipbes, who points out that these negotiations are jeopardizing "very important financial interests" in agriculture and food.

Paul Leadley believes that the outcome of this COP is "very unpredictable." "There will be an agreement." Will it be ambitious and well-drafted? "We fear that the goals of the global system will be significantly watered down as quantified targets disappear," continues the American environmentalist. If this trend is not reversed, "species will continue to decline and the planet will no longer be habitable even for us," warns Tatiana Giraud.