What is COP15?

It’s a naming convention guaranteed to confuse. COP15 is the 15th meeting of parties to the convention on biodiversity, which kicks off in Montreal on December 7.

COP27, held this year in Sharm El Sheikh, revolves around climate change.

Separate but intrinsically linked, the annual climate COPs aim to mitigate global warming by keeping to that all-important 1.5°C warming target, whereas, in Canada, the focus will be on strategies to reduce biodiversity loss.

Officials will work on a deal to halt, and reverse, the decline of Nature.

The ideal end point would be an agreement which stands alongside the landmark climate change agreement reached in Paris in 2015.

It is a document called the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

On the face of it, it’s an almost insurmountable task.

The WWF’s Living Planet 2022 report concluded that wildlife populations have declined by nearly 70% over the past 50 years.

This, along with many other research documents, have led many to conclude that the Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction, which ultimately threatens human civilisation.

So optimism is in short supply in Montreal.

The world negotiates biodiversity targets just once a decade. This meeting, originally set to take place in Kunming, China, has suffered four pandemic-related delays, changed location and is now being co-hosted by Canada.

The last biodiversity targets were set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Amongst other pledges, governments aimed to halve the loss of natural habitats, expand nature reserves to 17% of the world’s land area and stem the destruction of wildlife, by 2020.

On all these targets, the world failed.

Nevertheless, there is no option but to be ambitious. In the words of the person tasked with driving the negotiations, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema: “There is no planet B.”

There’s huge interest from the corporate world. To meet their ESG goals, businesses are increasingly turning to biodiversity measures such as reforestation or preservation of mangrove swamps. A record number of financial institutions are expected in Montreal and there’s an increasing sense of urgency across the board.

There lots of targets (22 to be precise). The draft list is here, on page 20.

So, what progress should we look out for?

The biggest news would be agreement on the “30 by 30” target. That means conserving key ecosystems by protecting 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.

Analysts believe there is a high chance of reaching consensus on this and indeed some 100 countries, including the UK, already have this target in place.

However, important players such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa are yet to commit. As so often, there is debate over who will pay, but there are other sticking points – some Indigenous Peoples are worried about rights to their land.

Another challenge is limiting the spread of invasive, non-indigenous species which are high on the list of global causes of declining biodiversity, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

And, once again, it’s all about the money.

A widely acknowledged reason for the failure of the Aichi targets was the lack of ability to implement them, especially in developing countries.

Those countries are after an equivalent to the much-trumpeted “Loss and Damage” fund established at COP27.

For that to work, current estimates indicate the need for financing to triple by 2030 and quadruple by 2050.

While some wealthier nations have laid out their plans, for example Germany has a $1 billion commitment to biodiversity, others are yet to commit.

There’s no consensus on any of the summit’s targets. If you look at the draft agreement, every square bracket is a point of debate. There are hundreds in the draft text, meaning an enormously complex fortnight of negotiations in Montreal.

The hosts have not invited countries’ leaders, which inevitably leads to less media interest, but that may mean less pressure on delegates to reach a deal.

And there’s a silver lining here - fewer speeches from leaders means officials and experts can focus on the technical work.

These are people unaffected by the diplomatic rows between their superiors and who dedicate their careers to finding solutions to these existential problems.

Whatever happens, international cooperation is a good thing and there will undoubtedly be some progress.

As with all challenges humanity faces, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.