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A MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB? THE UN BIODIVERSITY SUMMIT

It’s crunch time.


As the UN’s much delayed and long awaited biodiversity summit, COP 15, opens in chilly Montreal this week, the world waits anxiously for news of agreement on an ambitious plan to restore biodiversity over the next decade with the intention of living in harmony with nature by 2050. Having been present at and observed some of the recent biodiversity COPs it certainly feels to me as if this one is more critical than ever.


It has been a protracted and painful process to get to this point: COVID forced long delays in the timetable of in-person meetings necessary to prepare the plan and negotiations on the plan’s text for final agreement in Montreal have taken five working group meetings including one right on the eve of the summit.

2018 - The last UN Biodiversity Conference. Photo: H. Allison


Many biodiversity negotiators, especially those from developing countries with small delegations, are already exhausted after an intense catch-up period of global meetings; there were three in November alone (the UN Climate Summit in Egypt, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in Geneva/Wuhan, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Panama). The weak outcome of UNFCCC COP 27 in particular doesn’t bode well for tackling the steep terrain and difficult slopes towards restoring biodiversity.


From the early discussions of UN Biodiversity Summit negotiators, it is proving challenging to find much good news in amongst the disagreements about which versions of the text to use, revisiting text already agreed and the slow pace of work on the goals and targets. But the draft text now contains a welcome and widely supported target about gender equality, access to land and natural resources for women and girls and their full participation and leadership in decision-making which has been missing from previous plans. I also hope that the additional two years of reflection and dialogue will make for a stronger plan in the end.


So here is my personal letter to those gathered in Montreal.


Dear leaders and decision makers


The eyes of the world are on you for the next fortnight. Nature will be centre stage in global media and social media. Are you ready? Here are eight pieces of advice for your final push to the summit.


1. Remember the stakes are very, very high – failure is not an option 2. Don’t get dragged into the semantic weeds of words 3. Negotiate as if our lives depend on you - (and they do) 4. Avoid paralysis by (over) analysis 5. Be bold and brave and take a risk to achieve great things 6. Make those targets SMART 7. Listen to those who don’t have a negotiating voice but who are there to speak truth to power

8. Give us all the best possible Christmas and festive season gift of a powerful plan to restore and nurture biodiversity over the next decade.


The voice of NGOs at COP-14 in Sharm el Sheikh. Photo credit: H Alllison

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