COP15: China confirms third delay to UN biodiversity summit

The Chinese environment ministry has confirmed that COP15, the major UN biodiversity summit, will be delayed for a third time to 2022, following weeks of rumours.

Governments are due to set crucial biodiversity targets for the next decade at COP15, which will now be split into two phases including a high-level, largely online session in October, followed by a face-to-face meeting in Kunming, China, in the first half of 2022.

In a statement released by China yesterday the COP15 host nation said the October session will involve an opening ceremony, speeches from leaders and the release of a ‘Kunming Declaration’. 

While briefing negotiators in July, COP15 co-chair Basile van Havre was clear that the October session “[will not be] a negotiation”, adding “let’s try to see how we progress”. 

He told negotiators that the delay, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, would allow them to do more work on the post-2020 biodiversity framework, particularly around funding.

The details of the framework will not be negotiated until the in-person meeting in 2022, likely to take place from 25 April to 8 May 2022. 

Green groups have responded to the news by urging governments not to see the delay to COP15 as a “negotiation holiday”. 

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

This has been echoed by Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB who said: “We know what needs to be done. Our prime minister and the governments of the UK must use this time to start to put the words and commitments of the Leaders Pledge for Nature into domestic action.”

She said this would send a powerful message to the international community “that our words are being backed by urgent action to revive our world with clear, legally binding targets to halt and reverse the wildlife decline in the UK by 2030.”

When negotiators were told about the expected delay three weeks ago, Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of the conservation coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link, also urged ministers to make use of the time and “add a strong ‘state of nature’ target to the Environment Bill” so it can “take to the negotiating table the world’s first legal target to halt the decline of species”.

He added that this could help clinch the global ambition and accountability needed to make COP15 a success.

“'Super 2020' slipped to 'Super 2021'”, Benwell said, “and now it looks like we’ll have to wait for 2022 for global leaders to agree their ambitions for nature”.

“Will it be super? Well, that’s in the balance. The critical goal of halting and beginning to reverse the decline of wildlife by 2030 still needs to be pinned down.”

Zac Goldsmith, minister for the environment, has acknowledged these concerns saying that the delay “will not mean taking our foot off the pedal”.

In a statement, he added that 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% 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”.