UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP 15)


“Building a shared future for all life on earth” – Another step in the transformation journey

By Elizabeth Morgan

So last week, following UNCTAD XV, the first segment of the 15th UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP 15) was held virtually hosted by China, October 11-15. The second segment, which, it is hoped, will be in-person, is scheduled to be held in Kunming, China in April 2022. We have to recognize that everything is interconnected – the discussions on trade and development, whether in UNCTAD or the World Trade Organization (WTO), are linked to the discussions on the degradation of the environment, including loss of biodiversity and climate change, and to health, food security and finance. All the crises facing the globe and humanity today need to be addressed in combination, through mainstreaming, to place us on the road to recovery and transformation.

I recall that last year, with the COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe, fewer planes, ships, and production activities, the air and waters were cleaner and animals and birds were more visible. Yet, at the same time, the ferocity of wildfires around the globe, from climate change, were resulting in further habitat destruction and the demise of large numbers of plants and animals. A sobering BBC documentary, which I watched, is “Extinction” by well-known naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. It highlights the speed with which animals, insects and plant species are becoming extinct due to human activity in the quest for further economic gains. By our own actions and selfish obstinacy, the very existence of the human race is at risk. As destruction is wrought upon the earth, it seems that it is becoming more important for those with the means to explore whether it would be possible to live on the moon or whether other planets, such as Mars, could be habitable. That cannot be a solution.

The immediate need is for countries to collaborate in order to find and implement realistic solutions to our current crises, created here on earth, so that this planet, the only livable one we know of, can remain habitable for all of us and future generations.

Biodiversity Convention

The UN Convention on Biodiversity (the Biodiversity Convention) was concluded at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 and became effective in 1993. Recognizing the increasing threat to the earth, the Convention aims to conserve the biological diversity and promote their sustainable use and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits. The first Conference of the State Parties (COP I) was held in Nassau, the Bahamas in 1994.

The Biodiversity Convention is supported by a number of other treaties such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) adopted in 1975. It is also linked to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in this the UN Decade of Action for Sustainable Development.

Under this Biodiversity Convention, while there have been achievements, many targets, established up to 2020 for the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity (Living in harmony with nature), have not been met.

Cockpit country, Jamaica

For us, who live in the CARICOM Member States, especially those of us in the islands, we have seen, through our history, the impact of the loss of biodiversity. The islands’ vegetation were cleared to produce sugar cane and other agricultural commodities, as well as for mining in countries such as Jamaica. What remains of the endemic/indigenous vegetation and natural habitats continue to be at risk due to construction for housing and commercial buildings, such as hotels, as well as for mining and agriculture. In addition, the coastal and marine ecosystems are also at risk due to loss of mangroves and corals from destruction and pollution. Guyana, Suriname and Belize also have to be concerned about damage to their tropical rainforest and pollution of water resources.

Kunming Declaration

Member States, including those of CARICOM, participating in the High-Level Segment of COP 15, adopted the Kunming Declaration. An objective is the development, adoption and implementation of a more effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

The Declaration points to the combination of measures needed to halt and reverse biodiversity loss which include enhancing the conservation and restoration of ecosystems, reducing pollution, mitigating climate change, controlling and preventing overexploitation of species, transforming economic and financial systems, eliminating waste, and ensuring sustainable production and consumption.

And so, we now look to the meeting of UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 26) in Scotland, October 31-November 12, aiming to further reduce carbon emissions, and the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Geneva, Switzerland, November 30 – December 3, which is hoping to achieve an agreement to reduce fisheries subsidies.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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