UN's Cop15 biodiversity summit delayed by Covid for third time

Conference split into two parts, with face-to-face negotiations on this decade's nature targets postponed until 2022

Environmental groups have expressed concern that 'momentum' to protect nature will be lost as a result of the delay. EPA
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A major UN biodiversity summit has been delayed for a third time by the coronavirus pandemic, leading the Worldwide Fund for Nature to say "momentum to protect nature is at risk of stalling".

Cop15 was scheduled to be held in the Chinese city of Kunming in October, but its postponement was announced by the country's environment ministry on Wednesday.

Under new arrangements, the summit will be divided into two programmes: an online assembly in place of the physical gathering in October, followed by an in-person meeting in Kunming from April 25 to May 8 next year. It will be at this later summit that global biodiversity targets for the rest of the decade will be negotiated.

WWF head of policy and research Guido Broekhoven acknowledged the legitimacy of China's reasons for deferring the event but voiced concerns over the consequences, particularly over perceived shortcomings in the first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

"WWF expresses concern that the momentum to protect nature is at risk of stalling," he said.

"It is now more vital than ever that world leaders and [political] parties show that they are serious about tackling nature loss by taking action domestically and by championing an ambitious and transformative global biodiversity agreement at the coming conference in October,"

“Nature loss has not paused. It is essential that the extra time is used well."

His concerns were echoed by the UK's Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment, Zac Goldsmith.

The reason why the COP15 has to be postponed is a pandemic which was caused - like previous pandemics - by our abuse of the natural world
Enric Salal, National Geographic's Explorer in Residence

"We need to tackle the biodiversity crisis head on, and this delay will not mean taking our foot off the pedal," he said.

"As president of the recent G7, we are encouraged to see major progress on finance for nature, on cleaning up global supply chains, on efforts to tackle deforestation and with the global commitment to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.

"We will continue to press countries to join us in ramping up efforts to protect and restore nature.”

Enric Sala, the National Geographic's explorer in residence, linked the delay of the summit to the very issue it is designed to address.

"The reason why the Cop15 has to be postponed is a pandemic which was caused - like previous pandemics - by our abuse of the natural world," he said.

"The loss of nature affects everyone on our planet, hence the importance of having everyone at the table.

"But despite the pause, the science is clear: if we are to prevent the collapse of our life support system, we need countries to begin to act now to preserve the wild nature left on our planet, and restore much of our degraded lands and ocean."

Updated: August 18, 2021, 8:39 PM