Global Summit to Halt Extinction Crisis Moved to Montreal

A farmer tries to pour water on an area close to an illegally lit fire in the Amazon rainforest, south of Novo Progresso in the Brazilian state of Para, on August 15, 2020. (Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

Global Summit to Halt Extinction Crisis Moved to Montreal

"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."

The United Nations announced Tuesday that it is moving the conclusion of its pivotal global biodiversity conference from Kunming, China to Montreal, Canada after several coronavirus-related delays.

"We don't have a moment to waste."

Though still chaired by China, the final round of Biodiversity COP15--as the 15th Conference of Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is known--will be held from December 5-17 in Montreal, where delegates are expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that seeks to restore and protect the variety of life on Earth.

The U.N.'s relocation announcement came as signatories to the CBD--an international treaty that has been ratified by every country except the U.S.--began a six-day working group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya to advance negotiations on what ecologists say must be a robust agreement to halt the extinction crisis, which is already ravaging the world's plants, animals, and ecosystems and is projected to grow worse in the absence of far-reaching transformation.

Initially scheduled to take place in Kunming in October 2020, COP15 was postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic--a public health crisis that has highlighted the need to reform humanity's relationship with nature--until October 2021.

The first round of the conference last fall yielded the "Kunming Declaration," which was welcomed by advocates, who also stressed the need for equally bold and concrete policies.

Part two of the conference was supposed to take place in Kunming in May, but Chinese officials announced in March that the summit had been postponed again as the country faced a wave of Covid-19 infections.

"Due to the continued uncertainties related to the ongoing global pandemic, China, as COP president, with the support of the Bureau, has decided to relocate the meetings from Kunming to a venue outside of China," CBD executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said Tuesday in a statement.

Minister Huang Runqiu, president of COP15, noted that "China would like to emphasize its continued strong commitment, as COP president, to work with all parties and stakeholders 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."

Steven Guilbeault, Canada's minister of environment and climate change, highlighted 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," he added, "the world cannot afford to wait any longer for global action on nature protection."

Given fears of further delays, advocates welcomed the venue change.

"It's excellent news that this crucial meeting to plot a path toward solving the biodiversity crisis will finally happen this year," Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. "We don't have a moment to waste."

"Protecting biodiversity tangibly and effectively... must also be done ethically."

Sanerib, who is attending this week's talks, added that "we have to ensure that civil society can play an active role and not be shut out of key meetings, like is happening this week in Nairobi."

With the setting of COP15 finalized, "this should now focus everyone's minds on the quality of the deal," Greenpeace East Asia senior policy advisor Li Shou said in a statement.

"That means ambitious targets to ensure appropriate levels of protection both on land and at sea with solid guarantees for respect of the rights and roles of Indigenous peoples and local communities and a strong implementation package," Shou continued.

Setting aside 30% of the globe's land and water for protection by 2030 is expected to be a cornerstone of a new agreement, though such a one-size-fits-all approach has been criticized on environmental and human rights grounds.

In an attempt to ensure that conservation efforts don't lead to violent dispossession, Greenpeace International published a policy brief this week outlining how to "take into account the critical contribution of Indigenous lands without endangering Indigenous rights."

Greenpeace International Congo Basin forest project leader Irene Wabiwa said Tuesday that "protecting biodiversity tangibly and effectively"--an objective shared by negotiators in Nairobi--"must also be done ethically."

The new global biodiversity framework, Wabiwa argued, should "recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities by creating a 'third category' for Indigenous land as conservation land, and put them at the center of decision-making and funding."

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