UN’s Kunming biodiversity summit delayed a second time

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A key United Nations summit to negotiate an accord for nature similar to the Paris climate agreement has been postponed for a second time, it has been announced.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) said in a a statement that Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, had been moved to October due to delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. The negotiations in Kunming, China, had been scheduled for May after they were moved from October 2020.

Countries are expected to reach an agreement over targets to protect the natural world, including proposals to conserve 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030, introduce controls on invasive species and reduce plastics pollution.

Q&AWhat is the Kunming biodiversity conference 2021?Show

In 2021, hundreds of biodiversity experts and government ministers are expected to negotiate new targets on biodiversity at a meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming. The aim of the accord, “a Paris agreement for nature”, is to stop and reverse rampant biodiversity loss around the world.

Why is it a big deal?
In 2017 scientists said humans were causing the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. Now the UN has reported that the world has failed to meet a single target agreed a decade ago to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.

Are only governments worried?
No. At the 2020 World Economic Forum, business leaders said biodiversity loss was the third biggest risk to the world in terms of likelihood and severity, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict.

What might the Kunming agreement look like?
In January, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity published a 20-point draft of the agreement. It commits signatories to protect at least 30% of the planet, introduce controls on invasive species and reduce pollution from plastic waste and excess nutrients by 50%. But critics say this does not go far enough.

Is this agreement part of a long term plan?
Yes. The UN has an overarching plan that humanity should be living in harmony with nature by 2050. The 2030 goals relate to that ambition in five ways: ensuring no net losses in the integrity and size of freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems; reducing the number of species threatened with extinction; enhancing genetic diversity; achieving the targets of the Paris agreement; and sharing the benefits of genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

Scientists have warned that agricultural production, mining and pollution are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, with human activity threatening the healthy functioning of life-sustaining ecosystems.

The UN biodiversity head, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said the summit would take place from 11-24 October 2021, but hinted that further delays might be necessary because of the pandemic.

The world has never met a single UN target to stem the destruction of wildlife and the natural world, failing to meet any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010 to protect coral reefs, remove government subsidies that damage nature, and tackle pollution. It was the second consecutive decade that governments failed to meet targets.

Cop15 will be the first time China has led the world in a major international agreement on the environment.

Links between the destruction of the natural world and the emergence of zoonotic diseases have been amplified during the coronavirus pandemic, with increased awareness about humanity’s destruction of nature. But parties to the CBD have not been able to carry out scientific and preparatory work before Cop15, with some states objecting to online negotiations. The UN said it was working with regional representatives to find a solution so the meetings could take place before the Kunming summit.

Ahead of the talks, a coalition of more than 50 countries has committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030, including the UK, France and Costa Rica. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People says it is hoping to drive a far-reaching agreement at Kunming.

In May 2019, leading scientists warned that, due to human activity, the natural world is being destroyed at a rate hundreds of times higher than the average for the previous 10m years.

The destruction of the planet’s rainforests, coral reefs and other vital ecosystems have placed humanity in jeopardy, with the report’s authors warning of “ominous” consequences such as freshwater shortages and climate instability unless radical action is taken to protect biodiversity.

In November, the UK will host the UN Cop26 climate summit, seen as one of the last chances to get on track to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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