You’ve probably heard that Place des Armes metro station is closed because of COP15, and that over the next few weeks, Montreal is expecting between 10,000 and 15,000 delegates as well as protestors, journalists, volunteers, and administrative staff. If you’ve been down by Palais de Congrès, maybe you’ve seen the security perimeter, encountered road detours, or noted a 24-7 police presence (the 720 will still be open fortunately for those driving through the centre core). So what is this major international conference that is taking place in downtown Montreal?
What is COP15?
COP (Conference of the Parties) 15 is the the UN’s 15th Conference of the Parties to be held since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed. Adopted in 1992 at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the CBD aims to protect biodiversity around the world (the United States did NOT ratify that initial agreement). Delegates come together to talk and create a proposal about how best to preserve, well, biodiversity — all the plants, animals, living things (including people), and their habitats. It should come as no surprise that climate change, pollution, land-use, development and over-exploitation, and human population growth are the sorts of things that get discussed. Mass extinctions are taking place in what is called the 6th mass extinction (a mass extinction is a short period of geological time in which a high percentage of biodiversity or distinct species such as bacteria, fungi, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates, dies out. The 5th mass extinction was the dinosaurs). By 2100, it is expected that 27-47% of species on earth will be threatened or extinct if current trends continue, while these numbers can be greatly reduced if conservation practices increase. So it’s a bit of an all hands on deck to preserve things like coral reefs, mountain gorillas, monarch butterflies, whales, the leatherback sea turtle, and bumblebees. The issue is as urgent as climate change and the two are inextricably linked to each other.
If all goes well, the delegates (stakeholders ranging from government policy makers to NGOs) from 198 countries will be finalizing and adopting the UN’s the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework with the goal of enacting the 2050 Vision of “Living in harmony with nature”. The adoption of the document is not a given, as there are a few notable sticking points, such as payments from wealthy countries to poorer ones and the impact on industry.
What are the goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework?
In the Framework, some of the key points include recognition that “urgent policy” is needed to stabilize biodiversity loss over the next 10 years and allow recovery of natural ecosystems for 20 years, in order to achieve targets set for 2050. The biggest of the targets is what is called 30 by 30, which aims to conserve 30% of land and marine areas by 2030. A number of countries have adopted this project (Canada among them!) but formalizing the statement by the UN might push those that haven’t to engage in these policies as well. Among the other goals are developing tools and solutions to address biodiversity loss, meeting the needs of people, and reducing threats to biodiversity. 21 action oriented targets are outlined in the Framework, such as include ensuring 20% of degraded freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems are under restoration, reducing invasion by alien species by at least 50%, reducing pollution, reducing subsidies that are harmful to the environment by $500 billion, minimizing the effects of climate change, letting Indigenous People lead conservation efforts, and more.
Can I read the documents of COP15?
The UN makes the documents associated with the meeting available for download, so if you’re interested in checking them out, HERE is the link.
What else is going on during COP15?
Another thing to note is that the COP15 isn’t just about the Framework. Two different COPs that address related issues will be there as well, the CP-MOP-10, the 10th meeting of of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the NP-MOP-04, the 4th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing.
Finally, not everyone who wants to support the protection of biodiversity supports the UN. They argue that the UN is a shell for business and government interests to operate, or that the UN acts in a hypocritical and self-serving manner. Some also argue that the UN doesn’t go far enough in its proposals. Expect anti-capitalist groups and other organizations to be protesting. In particular, there will be a family-friendly march in support of COP15 that will be matched by an anti-COP15 march on December 10 at 1 p.m.
Why is COP15 here?
Fun fact, or not so fun fact, the first part of the 15th conference originally took place in Kunming, China in 2021, but due to health (cough cough nasal swab anyone cough) reasons, the second part was moved to Montreal in June. While initially it was hoped that these delays might help cement negotiations for the Framework, it had the opposite effect and led to increased specialist interests.
What happens if the Framework is Agreed Upon?
Perhaps the most important takeaway of the COP15 is not that delegates should agree on a Framework, but that governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals need to take action in support of the Framework. Well, really governments and businesses, let’s be honest. And while many governments like to pay lip service to the environment and the future of life on earth, it’s harder to get them to enact policies and laws that cause certain short term pain now and often uncomfortable changes for what one hopes is long term gains in the future. Organizations like the Collectif COP15 are hosting events that will inform citizens how to get governments to follow through.
COP15 takes place December 7 – 19 at Palais de Congrès. Info HERE.