December 27, 2022
Most of us were not ready for COP15 that took place in Montreal, especially right after COP27 in November, in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. To make sense out of this you have to know that there are two almost parallel United Nations Framework conferences based on the Environment:
- The first, COP27, the UN Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) lasted for two weeks and finished on November 19.
- The second, the UN Framework Conference on Biological Diversity (UNFCBD) that began on December 7 and ended on Monday, December 19.
Biodiversity conferences focus on the living creatures in the Environment and warn the world about extinctions that have been taking place at alarming rates. Climate Change conferences focus on global warming. The UN has chosen to separate these two environmental endeavors, probably because of the inherent magnitude of the details on both sides of this subject. Both COPs are important but COP27 was the subject of last month’s Environmental Report.
The first Conference on Biological Diversity (BD) took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 with 150 countries making commitments to take part in the campaign. Unlike the COPs on Climate Change (CCs), BDs meet every other year, hence there have been fewer conferences. BDs focus on living things and is known as the “Treaty of Life”. It also focuses on people including Indigenous Peoples who live on land occupied by 80% of the world’s biodiversity. The conference gives much credence to this: Indigenous Peoples attended the conference in large numbers. However, the ‘people’, other than Indigenous Peoples, have greater resource ‘needs’ than all the other species of the world and so greatly affect all the others. So, the economic policies of developed nations have become a major subject of negotiation at these conferences.
This COP comes in two parts:
- Part 1 was held as a hybrid event in Kunming, China and virtually in October, 2021.
- Part 2 was canceled because of China’s strict COVID policy.
China maintained “presidency” over the proceedings and partnered with Canada to fulfill the commitment. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, played a lead role as the hosting country, from opening ceremonies throughout the daily negotiations. The Chinese co-host, Huang Runqiu served as the COP President. The pact that resulted from this COP is called the Montreal-Kunming Pact. News coverage has not been that great in the U.S., but The Guardian, which is British-based, has done a good job.
The U.S. has not committed to any BD goals (Vox, May, 20, 2021) but the Biden Administration is paying attention. It would be difficult for the U.S. to commit as a real member of the BD due to the requirement that it would need a two-thirds vote by the Senate. The Republicans have, since the first BD conference in 1992, prevented that from happening. They claim that it would infringe on American sovereignty, put commercial interests at risk, and impose a financial burden. Environmental experts say these claims have no support. What’s not stated is that the U.S. bears some amount of responsibility for their part in species extinctions and climate change. The Department of Interior did launch a campaign called 30X30, joining other countries by attempting conserve 30% of the country by 2030. This concept is central to COP15 and even to California, under Governor Newsom, which is adapting this into policy.
Many major issues have been dealt with by the BD through the years, including an on-going scientific assessment of the world’s biodiversity. It has become clear that we’re in an Era of Extinction and the non-indigenous peoples are ignoring this fact. Why this is important is because we’re all interdependent on each other as species. “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” is the 7th Principle of the Unitarian Universalist religious society. It’s rather simply stated but has global implications. To the competitive capitalist these conferences are mere formalities and not to be taken seriously. So, there’s a gap between our western capitalistic philosophy and the environmentally-minded world citizens; the latter would prefer some movement toward a model of the Indigenous Peoples’ relationship to their lands.
The economics of developed countries have been built on the destruction of earthly structures and polluting much of what we have left, especially the oceans. The BD has taken on this extremely unpopular task of addressing this before it is too late. We’ve already experienced so many thousands of extinct species and at such increasing rates that we cannot continue “business as usual” for much longer. Al Jazeera, Dec. 5, reported that scientists noted three-quarters of the earth’s surface and about two-thirds of the oceans have been seriously altered, leading us to a million species going extinct in the next decades. Little importance has been placed on the concept that our human species depends on the survival of the natural world. To add to this situation the commitments made by participating nations are non-binding and they haven’t done a great job yet of accomplishing their goals. Also, the process has been accused of having few ‘teeth’ to enforce any kind of united effort. That is the precarious perch we find ourselves sitting on.
A major issue carried forth from previous COPs is a pact known as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, signed by over 100 nations. It has the lofty goal for each country to transform social and economic systems, bringing a halt to biodiversity loss, stabilizing a new environment by 2030 and showing a net biodiversity gain by 2050. This is the same COP15 pledge, mentioned previously, to include conserving 30% of each nation’s land and ocean territory by 2030 (called 30X30).
A lingering issue in the CC COP27 agreement, is the problem of finances. The final proposal by the European Union to establish a Loss and Damage fund at COP27 is not yet a commitment. The rift between the Global North (northern hemisphere countries) and the Global South (southern hemisphere countries) is costing the richer countries (Global North) more than they are willing to pay. BD COP15 got stuck in negotiations over funding for the Global South countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that need the support of the world to adequately address the biodiversity conservation issue. The objection to the final agreement by the Democratic Republic of Congo for the provision of another fund to help those under-developed countries was not what the Global North wanted to hear. The existing fund voted on is not adequate to cover the most vulnerable and it was the source of several session walkouts by those countries. The richer countries like the EU balked at the creation of yet another fund and that puts a tarnish on this whole agreement.
A meeting on the sidelines of COP15 was between the Ukrainian Minster of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources and the Canadian Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding cooperation on climate change and biodiversity. Canada will support Ukraine’s efforts to assess the horrible state of their Environment due to the war with Russia. It will require new protocols for that and to manage restoration in the future.
How did the negotiations fare during the conference? While the agreement spells out numerous targets these are the major points of the Montreal-Kunming Pact:
- The conservation of 30% of the planet by 2030 remained in the agreement despite disagreement.
- Indigenous rights were front and center at this conference and their practices are adapted as the norm for any kind of serious protection of biodiversity.
- Action will be taken against government subsidies that harm the Environment. This failed in past attempts to arrive at a consensus.
- Another difficult measure arrived at the right wording to see that governments require companies to report, quote “their risks, dependencies, and impacts on biodiversity”, which could radically change business practices.
- Bio-piracy, the act of taking resources from various countries in the form of digital sequence information without payment. Genetic information used in producing such things as drugs, vaccines, and food products are taken from countries without divulging the digital sequencing information, which would be used for tracking purposes. Some form of payment will now be expected of those corporations that participate in this sort of exploitation.
It seems only natural to draw conclusions from both of the two global environmental conferences (COP27 & COP15) that took place within the last two months. To the scientists with all the finer points of the meteorological/climatological data, to those who deal daily with the affairs of state, and to those who balance the financial books on their respective economies, these conferences generate important guidelines for nations. There are also those who say the conferences are nothing but “blah, blah, blah” as Greta Thunberg summed up the COP26 proceedings in 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. These are all valid points. A conference may seem like a lot of “blah, blah, blah” when people are working collaboratively for any kind of complex solutions. One can’t be sure anything is really being accomplished at negotiation tables but it’s still better to be talking than not. The world’s leaders have very complex problems to solve even without climate change. There’s no handbook, rule book, or encyclopedia that explains how to lift countries up and turn them around in a new direction, particularly without interfering too much in the lives of billions of people.
On a personal note we may never be totally satisfied with the negotiation outcomes when so many nations are involved. Climate Change is making itself felt in world state departments, in nations’ economics and will most certainly continue to disrupt the Earth’s billions of people. There are also clever “band aid” solutions for enormous problems. Emerging geoengineering technologies like capturing and storing CO2 and solar geoengineering (sunlight reflection) may offer some hope in that new ideas are needed. Environmentalists feel these two examples detract from the real problem of curtailing the production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We’re going to have to trust the scientists that spend their time studying these issues and get accustomed to a world that’s different from the one we are living in. It’s worth mentioning that wars with their destructive shelling explosives as in the Ukraine are every bit as debilitating to biodiversity as well as adding to climate change. Research shows (Brown University, 2019) that recent wars have caused billions of tons of CO2 and other GHGs released into the atmosphere. There are also the other types of pollutants to the atmosphere and to water. There is also the chance of accidental or deliberate releases, as in Ukraine, of radioactive materials from nuclear power facilities. We know we need a better way to solve international issues.
One thing for sure is that negotiations can’t really take hold until the powerful countries put away their differences and come to the negotiating tables like caring human beings. It’s going to take a leader to get them to do that unless there’s a magical change of heart somewhere in this group. We can take some solace in knowing there are global talks and we can let our own local and national governments know how we feel about this. Let them know by email, by writing letters, calling their offices, and sending them seasonal greeting cards with poignant messages. We can always let them know what we like and what we don’t like. Taking part in a demonstration is an excellent group message to authorities and is helpful to our individual souls.
Please excuse my rambling but it felt needed after reviewing the complex proceedings of these two COPs.
Sources of Bay Area Activities and Events
Friends of the Earth – located at the David Brower Center, Berkeley.
350BayArea – Includes other 350.org branches in the Bay Area.
Planet Drum – San Francisco bio-region awareness center.
David Brower Center – The environmental center in Berkeley.
Sunflower Alliance – Bay Area umbrella organization for activism.
Sierra Club San Francisco Bay – Bay Area website.