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COP15 Biodiversity Conference Review: Voice Of Arran, Sally Campbell

First published in Voice of Arran, December 2022

By Sally Campbell. All image credits to Greenpeace.

Biodiversity Loss, Restore Ecosystems and Protect Indigenous Rights

The Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) was held in Kunming, China and Montreal, Canada, in two phases. Chaired by China and hosted by Canada, COP 15 resulted in the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) on the last day of negotiations. The GBF aims to address biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) ended in Montreal, Canada, on 19 December 2022 with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030. Representatives from 188 governments gathered in Montreal for two weeks for this important summit. The GBF aims to address biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights. The plan includes concrete measures to halt and reverse nature loss, including putting 30 per cent of the planet and 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030. It also contains proposals to increase finance to developing countries – a major sticking point during talks.

The stakes could not be higher: the planet is experiencing a dangerous decline in nature as a result of human activity. It is experiencing its largest loss of life since the dinosaurs. One million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.

This major conference was drawing to a close in Montreal, where governments had come together to discuss ways of protecting biodiversity. It was a significant summit but you would not have known it was taking place if you read most newspapers or watched the news in this country. Most people and press were more interested in upcoming Christmas and shopping!

James Dinneen in The New Scientist on 13 December reported that representatives of seven of the world’s largest economies have announced an alliance to improve the sustainability of mining minerals essential to decarbonisation. The announcement was made at the COP15 biodiversity summit. Critical minerals like cobalt, lithium, copper and a slew of rare substances like tellurium are used in many electronics, batteries and renewable energy technologies. One estimate has the demand for these minerals increasing six-fold by 2050. In 2020, the total demand for lithium worldwide amounted to 292 thousand metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent. It is forecast that by 2030 this quantity will increase to approximately 2.5 million metric tons.

Outcomes of COP15

COP15 biodiversity deal is ‘new era’ for Indigenous-led conservation
The agreement made at the COP15 biodiversity summit balanced a recognition of the importance of Indigenous peoples and territories for conserving biodiversity without imposing on Indigenous sovereignty over those lands.

COP15: How much money do we need to stop biodiversity loss?
Several high-income countries have made pledges at COP15 to fund programmes to protect biodiversity but so far they amount to a small fraction of what is needed. Wildlife, plants and habitats at risk across the globe are set to benefit from new UK government funding announced by Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). The UK will pledge nearly £30 million to support developing countries in delivering the ‘30by30’ target, which is aiming to protect least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean habitats by 2030.

COP15: Countries debate how to share profits from Earth’s genetic data. The question of how best to share revenues from products developed using genetic data from plants, animals and microbes has emerged as a make-or-break issue at COP15.

Observers hope that a strengthened mission, measurable targets and an “enhanced implementation mechanism” mean that the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), as it is formally known, will succeed where its predecessor – the Aichi targets, agreed at COP10 in 2010 – did not. Occurring two years later than planned due to the global pandemic, COP15 was characterised by the city’s frigid winter temperatures and sometimes-frosty negotiations.

Tensions were high throughout the summit, with developed countries wanting to ratchet up the framework’s ambition, while developing countries sought assurance that developed countries would devote sufficient resources to allow them to do so.
The final deal, reached in the early hours of Monday 19 December, included the oft-repeated headline target of “30×30” – an ambition to conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the ocean by 2030. A second “30×30” goal also made it into the final package, with developed countries agreeing to mobilise $30bn for developing countries by 2030.

But tensions flared once again after COP15 president Huang Runqiu appeared to gavel through the deal despite objections from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leaving observers to wonder whether the “consensus” deal could legally stand. However, the issue was smoothed over in the closing plenary, although reservations about the final procedure will be noted in the final report of the meeting.

Alongside the new framework, the summit resulted in dozens of other “decision texts”, which lay out more technical aspects of the negotiations, including monitoring mechanisms, resource mobilisation and areas for future work. These texts have garnered less political and media attention than the GBF itself, but contain some of the key details underlying the framework.

None of the components of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – including the GBF and the decision texts – are legally binding. However, countries have agreed to turn promises into action through a plan to report on, review and voluntarily “ratchet up” their ambitions for tackling biodiversity loss. This is similar to the plan drawn up to implement the Paris Agreement for climate change.

Biodiversity is a vital key in tackling the climate change and global warming issue as graphically illustrated in the Amazon where the rainforest has now turned from being a carbon sink to being a carbon emitter due to uncontained exploitation of resources.

Meanwhile other news suggests we still have much to do:

Using the talks as a peg, The Times noted a citizen science survey that has found that bug windscreen splats on cars in the UK have fallen almost two-thirds in 17 years, a worrying indicator that biodiversity is declining when taken alongside government figures. The Guardian, one of the few outlets that put resources into covering COP15, carried an op-ed by an exasperated anonymous negotiator at the talks. “Even by the glacial standards of UN biodiversity negotiations, COP15 has been slow. We have been in Montreal for more than a week and I am flabbergasted at the lack of progress. But in the last day, hours even, almost 200 countries agreed on the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) at COP15. The framework commits nations to protect 30 per cent of the planet by 2030, increase financing for nature restoration and protection, and halt human-induced extinction – among other measures”.

This is a major step forward, at last, so why am I still suspicious? I wonder if it is “business as usual with government and the corporate world’s policies”; two recent examples:

Caymans in the coal mine

Michael Gove has approved the first new UK coal mine in 30 years despite concern about its climate impacts among Conservative MPs and experts. The proposed mine in Cumbria would dig up coking coal for steel production in the UK and across the world. Critics say the mine would undermine climate targets and demand for coking coal is declining. But supporters claim the mine, near Whitehaven, will create jobs and reduce the need to import coal. The fate of the West Cumbria Mining project had been hanging in the balance for two years after the local county council initially approved the mine in 2020.

The government’s advisory Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) pointed out that 85% of the coal produced by the mine would be exported. A year after it urged the world to phase out coal, this decision has sparked outcry amongst, well, pretty much everyone. In a scathing blog for Business Green, James Murray called the move the UK’s “worst ever climate policy decision,” while Ambrose Evans Pritchard in The Telegraph said the project is “economic and diplomatic idiocy” and it has even come under fierce criticism from leaders of climate-vulnerable nations.

The mine, which will produce coking coal for steelmaking, has a veritable laundry list of controversies; it is expected to export almost all of its production; it is owned by a private equity firm with a financial reporting base in the Cayman Islands; it seeks to be ‘net zero in its operations’ but does not count the burning of the coal itself.

One wonders whether the ultimate politician Michael Gove knows that delays invoked by legal proceedings such as judicial review will mean that actual project development is unlikely to happen

Oil Firm Total and the Congo

Last year, oil giant Total announced the launch of a major tree-planting offsetting project in the Republic of the Congo, which the company claims will sequester more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 over 20 years. A suspicious amount by any calculation! Now, an investigation by Unearthed and SourceMaterial has revealed the human cost of this scheme. Local people described how they can no longer gain access to the lands they have farmed for generations and do not know how they will feed their families or pay for their children’s education. Documents revealed that the land was requisitioned by the Congolese government over a year before consultations with local communities were completed. At this point, some families received a payment of about $1 per hectare of land, while others received nothing. As a result, offsetting gets a bad name!

But there is in more general terms a financial case for investing in Biodiversity Offsetting as it does provide the world, and us, with essential services. Around the world investment in energy transition is accelerating. Spending on clean energy for example should reach $1.4trn, roughly a fifth above pre-pandemic levels. But ecosystems are not so far featuring in these plans and that has to change. Safeguarding biodiversity is an efficient way to control carbon emissions through carbon sequestration, in other words absorbing carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Companies are allocating huge sums to developing clean energy sources, re-engineering industrial processes and developing carbon capture technologies. However, these same businesses must pay more attention to opportunities for preserving ecosystems. By investing in biodiversity-directing capital to projects that repair ecosystems for example, can offset their emissions. By some estimates schemes to manage carbon-rich peatlands and wetlands and to reforest cleared land could provide more than one third of the emissions reductions that are needed to prevent more than 2 degrees of global warming. See The Economist Dec 24, 2022.

Lofty promises about preserving the world’s biodiversity have been made and broken many times before. What is also needed is clear vigilance and enforcements of activities, both in the market and on the ground, and across the oceans. We have seen too many paper parks, dubious certifications, and a lack of global and local compliance. This has to change! In a recent article Feargal Sharkey in The Times Magazine 24 December 2022 “Don’t Mess with Me” is scathing about the way environmental groups have failed to grasp much earlier, issues of dirty rivers in England, and have been to a large extent captured by the system of regulators and by the water industry. He writes about the involvement of hopeless NGOs in long running talks about abstraction from rivers that end in a pledge to carry out more studies. That piece reminded me sadly of our Scottish inshore marine environment, full of promises by regulators, Marine Scotland, SEPA and yet all that happens are more reports and no action for YEARS. Just more destruction of inshore ecosystems. Wake up Scottish ENGOs!

I call 2022 a grim year, politics being as it is, corporate greed undiminished, inflation and the real problems of climate and social justice. Those of us raised in those early post second world war years, with hopes of better health, better education, better life chances, better housing, welfare and unemployment benefit, it was a time of hope for the future. Beveridge created a blueprint for a society and a political economy remade; I read Peter Hennessy’s book A Duty of Care and realised how we had let so much drain away, especially in the last 20 years, although our generation did well out of those first 40 post war years. Are we to be remembered as the selfish generation? We have known about the impact of fossil fuels on climate and ecosystems for 40 years and ignored it, believing the fossil fuel lobby propaganda, just as the government ignored the health implications of smoking and health, influenced by lobbying and financial contributions from tobacco companies. We have been too busy enjoying the trips, the flights, the freedom of selfishness, consumerism and entitlement, accumulation of wealth and property so it is the young of the next generations, who will reap the storm coming with a 2 degree rise in warming of our climate and the increasing loss of ecosystems which support life on Earth.

Together, we can demand the fair, green and peaceful world the world’s ecosystems all deserve. We need to fight harder for it in 2023. Signing off and wishing all of our readers a happy and perhaps more sustainable 2023.

Sally Campbell
December 2022

With thanks especially to Greenpeace Unearthed, Feargal Sharkey “Don’t Mess with Me:” in The Times Magazine which gave me much thought over Christmas!

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