COP15: China gives up host role with call for urgent meeting on biodiversity, UN says

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China on Tuesday officially gave up its role as host of the UN Biodiversity Conference, which had been set to take place in the city of Kunming but now will be moved to Montreal, Canada.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) announced on Tuesday that the UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, would be held in Canada in December.

The official announcement confirmed the South China Morning Post’s report about expected changes to the COP15 event.

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“Acknowledging the urgency to address the biodiversity crisis, adopt the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and launch its implementation, the COP presidency and bureau have emphasised that the second part of the meetings must be held in 2022,” CBD executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema said in a statement.

“Due to the continued uncertainties related to the ongoing global pandemic, China, as COP president, with the support of the bureau, has decided to relocate the meetings from Kunming to a venue outside of China,” Mrema said, adding that the CBD had decided the second part of the COP15 meeting would take place on December 5-17 in Montreal, which is home to the CBD.

The announcement was made in the Kenyan capital Nairobi during a preparatory session for the COP15 meeting.

China, as COP15 president, will continue to preside over the conference, with the COP15 logo and the theme maintained, according to the statement.

China had also agreed to fund the travel of ministers from least developed countries and small developing states to Canada to take part in the high-level segment of the conference, it said.

Relocating the conference to another country would add more complexity to the matter, especially given the fragile relationship between China and Canada, according to experts.

“China has the presidency of COP15 but Canada is the host country. [The conference] still requires a lot of coordination and consultation between the two countries which don’t have good diplomatic relations at the moment,” according to a source familiar with the arrangements for international conferences.

“Such conferences will have high-level segments when the heads of states will deliver speeches. If China wants to invite some country leaders, can it make the decision alone or does it need to negotiate with Canada?

“Taking an extreme example, if China wants to invite Vladimir Putin, do you think [Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau will agree?”

The conference was originally planned to be held in Kunming in October 2020 but was postponed several times because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase of the meeting took place in Kunming in October last year in a virtual format and the second phase was expected to be a face-to-face meeting.

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China has stuck to its zero-Covid policy and postponed or cancelled a number of international conferences and sporting events.

The International Air Transport Association annual general meeting and World Air Transport Summit, which were originally planned to be held on June 19-21 in Shanghai, were moved to Doha, Qatar, for the same dates.

The Asian Games, initially due to be held in Hangzhou later this year, have been postponed and China has withdrawn as the 2023 Asian Cup host.

Zhao Kejin, an international affairs expert with Tsinghua University, said China’s priorities were the Communist Party’s national congress in the second half of this year as well as containing the spread of the coronavirus.

“These are the fundamental policies in China in the longer term,” Zhao said. “The most important thing in China this year is the party congress. There will be a lot of uncertainty if you get distracted from doing something else around the time of the congress.”

Zhao added that there were some “difficulties” between China and Canada, but it would not be a problem for them to cooperate under the UN framework.

Li Shuo, a senior policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia, said there was a lot of work China could do during its presidency of COP15.

“The meeting in Nairobi this week is the last face-to-face preparatory meeting before the opening of COP15 in December, but there are many unresolved issues,” Li said.

“It’s important to make the best use of the remaining half year. China as the president could guide countries to solve difficult issues, such as setting ambitious protection targets or a strong finance package.”

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In December, about 200 member states of the CBD are expected to finalise a new accord to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and achieve recovery by 2050.

A draft version of the accord includes a goal to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, but conservationists said implementation mechanisms and financial resources should be emphasised.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday that China would continue to perform its duties as the president of CBD.

“China will also make active preparations in light of the Covid situation to ensure a safe and successful second part and bring global biodiversity governance to a new level,” Wang said.

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