Africa: Analysis – Pandemic Delay to UN Nature Summit Spurs Calls for Stronger Global Deal


Kuala Lumpur — Green groups say the COP15 postponement was inevitable due to COVID-19 but want governments to use the extra time to land a more ambitious agreement to protect nature

  • U.N. biodiversity summit postponed again due to COVID-19
  • Third delay gives time to improve draft global agreement
  • Green groups call for urgent conservation efforts

Governments should take advantage of the third postponement of a United Nations biodiversity summit tasked with striking a global deal to protect nature by boosting ambition and finance for conservation and restoration, environmentalists said Thursday.

About 195 countries were expected to agree the text of a new pact to safeguard the planet’s plants, animals and ecosystems – similar to the Paris climate accord – at U.N. talks scheduled for October in the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

But a lack of face-to-face meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic means the summit, initially scheduled for October 2020, will now be held in two parts, officials announced on Wednesday.

A virtual session will be held this October and final in-person negotiations from April 25 to May 8 next year in Kunming.

“Given the urgency of the biodiversity crisis, the decision to delay talks is not ideal,” said Li Shuo, a policy advisor at Greenpeace China. “But in light of the global pandemic and the need for face-to-face negotiations, it is an inevitable choice.”

The decision should not mean a “negotiation holiday”, he added, as much work is still needed to complete the new pact.

The first part of the COP15 conference in October should be a high-level opportunity that gives impetus to the process, “not another show of nicely sounding rhetoric that hardly unlocks any contentious issues”, Li told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Better conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, are seen as key to protecting the ecosystems on which humans depend and limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.

But forests are still being cut down – often to produce commodities such as palm oil and beef – destroying biodiversity and threatening climate goals, as trees absorb about a third of planet-warming emissions produced worldwide.

Last year, a U.N. report showed governments had fallen short on global targets set in 2010 to protect biodiversity, though conservation efforts suggested the destruction of nature can be slowed and even reversed.

‘NO PAUSE BUTTON’

U.N. officials and observers working to secure the new global agreement warned earlier this year of the limitations of relying only on virtual talks.

They cited connectivity problems for some developing countries, while negotiators and observers in Asia-Pacific struggled to cope with sessions outside their time zones.

Officials also called for stronger political leadership from host nation China.

Georgina Chandler, senior international policy officer at the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said countries that had been sitting on the fence must come forward in October and show they “fully back a strong outcome”.

The draft text for the nature pact includes a core pledge to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.

But environmentalists have criticised low levels of funding committed by rich countries to help developing nations do this, while many leaders are still relying on natural resources to bolster their economies and lift people out of poverty.

Global annual spending to protect and restore nature on land needs to triple this decade to about $350 billion by 2030 and rise to $536 billion by 2050, a U.N. report said in May.