Later this year, the UK will host 195 world leaders at an international climate summit in Glasgow. Also known as COP26, the talks will be a crucial opportunity for the global community to find solutions to the climate crisis.
But fewer people are aware of another key summit this year: the international talks taking place to address the equally urgent nature crisis. The COP15 biodiversity summit will take place in Kunming, China. To date it may not have attracted the same level of attention as its climate counterpart, but there’s a lot riding on success at the talks.
What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?
COPs take place every two years under the CBD, with this year’s COP being the fifteenth meeting. The CBD’s purpose is to conserve and ensure the sustainable use of biological diversity at every level.
At the 2010 talks in Nagoya, Japan, 194 parties signed up to a series of 20 targets to be met by 2020. Dubbed the Aichi targets after the region in which Nagoya sits, they were created to address a wide variety of issues in support of global biodiversity. Following the conference, signatories were also required to devise national biodiversity plans to meet the targets. In the UK, biodiversity is a devolved policy issue, and so the devolved governments are responsible for creating and delivering their own action, while the UK Government’s plans pertain to England.
Fast forward a decade to 2020, and the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook report revealed that these targets were spectacularly missed across the world. Despite global leaders promising a decade of concerted efforts to tackle the inexorable decline of nature, the world collectively failed to meet a single one of the 20 targets. The UK, and each of the four nations, also failed in their contribution towards this global goal. This lack of progress and the deepening ecological emergency make it clear that while the last UN decade on biodiversity failed, this coming decade on ecosystem restoration cannot.
What’s the plan for COP15?
As if a triple bill of all three Convention meetings in the Autumn wasn’t enough, this year’s biodiversity summit is also an especially important one. As parties prepare to meet in Kunming, initial plans for the new post-2020 biodiversity framework have already been drawn up. The final version will be decided at the conference but is expected to include an agreement to put global biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, and a target to protect 30% of the Earth’s land and seas by 2030.
We cannot afford to make the same mistakes and miss these targets again. The evidence is clear that continuing nature’s destruction will lead to thousands more extinctions, pose a serious risk to global food insecurity, and increase the likelihood of further pandemics like Covid-19. And as the climate crisis worsens, degraded ecosystems also limit our resilience and ability to adapt to extreme weather events.
What role can the four countries of the UK play in influencing the outcome of COP15?
A new international deal for nature must be matched by domestic ambition to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and deliver commitments made under the CBD. The UK has a strong opportunity to lead, taking advantage of the cross-over with the UNFCCC presidency for COP26 and the G7 presidency. In each country, the political attractiveness of adopting a global leadership role offers the opportunity to leverage greater ambition in national agendas, linking the credibility of negotiating positions to the strength of domestic actions.
In September 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced a commitment to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030. In December 2020, the Scottish Government committed to protect 30% of Scotland’s land for nature by 2030, in the ‘Statement of Intent on Biodiversity’. The four Links also welcomed the recent Edinburgh Declaration on post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which has called for a collective commitment from subnational Governments, cities, and local authorities to raise ambition for nature’s recovery. This is especially important given that most of the land and sea area that is legally protected for nature in the UK is within the jurisdiction of the devolved governments.
However, whilst these announcements are welcomed, all four countries of the UK need to show that they are serious about tackling the biodiversity crisis by translating these promises into genuine action on the ground. We want to see:
It will be impossible to solve the climate crisis without tackling the nature crisis and vice versa, and so securing good outcomes at both summits should be of utmost priority for the four governments. COVID-19 may have derailed 2020 as being a ‘super year’ for the environment, but through global leadership at COP15 and COP26 the four countries of the UK could be instrumental in helping 2021 claim the title.
Imogen Cripps, Policy Officer at Wildlife and Countryside Link
Jill Eagleson, Policy & Projects Officer at Northern Ireland Environment Link
Juliet Caldwell, Nature Advocacy Officer at Scottish Environment LINK
Rory Francis, Nature Targets Advocacy Officer at Wales Environment Link
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
Latest Blog Posts