The date for a key UN nature summit has finally been confirmed after more than two years of delays and amid fears momentum to halt biodiversity loss across the globe has been lost.
Ahead of the latest round of negotiations in Nairobi this week, the UN convention on biological diversity confirmed that the Cop15 biodiversity conference will now take place in Montreal, Canada, from 5 to 17 December, after it became clear China would not be able to host the event in Kunming due to the country’s zero-Covid policy.
It comes after several pandemic-related delays to the meeting, which was meant to take place in October 2020, and amid intense frustration with Beijing, who are holding the presidency for a major UN environmental agreement for the first time.
Fears had been building over the prohibitive cost for smaller countries to participate in Cop15 if it were held in China, along with concerns over restrictions on civil society, Indigenous groups and the press.
At a meeting on Tuesday, officials signed off the plan to host Cop15 near the UN biodiversity headquarters in Quebec. China will maintain responsibility for hosting and organising the event, and will do so in coordination with the Canadian government.
Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s environment minister, said the country was proud to host the conference. “There is an urgent need for international partners to halt and reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity worldwide,” he said.
The once-a-decade nature summit will come after Cop27 in Egypt but clash with the World Cup in Qatar, prompting fears of a lack of attention and attendance by senior politicians and ministers, which was a key part of Cop26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The final global biodiversity framework agreement is likely to be negotiated in the hours before the World Cup final on 18 December.
At a parliamentary committee on Monday, UK environment ministers Lord Goldsmith and George Eustice refused to confirm whether the prime minister would attend but said he was likely to play a part.
In a statement, China’s environment minister Huang Runqiu said the country would like to emphasise its continued strong commitment to working with all parties and stakeholders to ensure the success of Cop15.
Negotiations for the agreement are scheduled to restart this week in Nairobi, Kenya, with significant divisions over proposals to protect 30% of land and sea, money for protecting biodiversity and the use of the digital sequence information to produce cosmetics, drugs and other products.
Governments have never met a target to halt the destruction of nature and there are fears that this agreement will be a repeat of what has gone before, amid concerns of a standoff with the global north and south over resources to protect natural places.
In March, the end of talks in Geneva saw a dramatic intervention by Gabon on behalf of a group of developing countries calling for $100bn (£80bn) of biodiversity finance on top of the $100bn of climate financing that has been causing divisions ahead of Cop27.
Despite the clarity over the Cop15 date, Oscar Soria, campaign director of the activism site Avaaz, said that the talks had lost momentum and it was a lost opportunity to show leadership on the environment.
“2020 was supposed to be the super year for nature led by China; two years later Beijing’s indecision seriously jeopardised a diplomatic process to halt biodiversity loss.
“Now, this super year of failure can only be averted by the leadership of the UN. We have just a few months, and lots of diplomatic work needs to be done. And while there’s now clarity on when and where the next Cop will happen, a big question remains on China’s ability to effectively hold the presidency towards an ambitious deal for nature,” he said.
Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China, said: “Governments have finally made a decision on where and when the Cop15 will be held. This should now focus everyone’s minds on the quality of the deal. That means ambitious targets to ensure strong protection both on land and at sea and a robust implementation package.
“The upcoming preparatory session in Nairobi should see countries advancing the draft deal. The remaining months to Cop15 should be used effectively to unlock contentious issues such as finance.”