COP15: China’s biodiversity goals in focus as Xi Jinping plans summit speech

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Chinese President Xi Jinping will speak on Tuesday via video link at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) summit, according to China’s foreign ministry.

The COP15 conference, which started on Monday, is taking place in the southwestern city of Kunming.

It ends on Friday but will continue next spring when the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are expected to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that aims to reverse biodiversity loss in this decade.

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Li Shuo, a global policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia, said Xi’s participation highlighted the importance of the biodiversity agenda for China.

“The world will be curiously watching and see how China might use this platform to announce domestic conservation efforts and contribute to the global momentum in the run-up to COP26,” Li said, referring to the UN Climate Change Conference later this month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a speech on Tuesday via video link at the COP15 summit. Photo: AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a speech on Tuesday via video link at the COP15 summit. Photo: AFP

COP26 will take place from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow in Britain. With these two important meetings on the environment being held this year, there are growing calls to link biodiversity with climate issues and find solutions to solve these crises.

David Cooper, CBD deputy executive secretary, said on Sunday in Kunming that the issues of climate and biodiversity were intertwined.

Eyes on China to lead the way to stop biodiversity loss

“We cannot achieve goals in the Paris agreement without investing in biodiversity, and we cannot achieve our vision of living in harmony with ecological civilisation, without strong action on climate change,” Cooper said.

“By conserving our ecosystems, wetlands, forests and grasslands, and by restoring our ecosystems, we can contribute to both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and also helping people adapt to the unavoidable climate change.”

China will be key to the biodiversity and climate change talks, but COP26 president Alok Sharma told Sky News last month that Xi had yet to commit to attending the climate change summit in Glasgow. According to Bloomberg, Xi does not plan to attend the G20 summit in Italy this month in person.

Still, conservationists and diplomats have hopes for the biodiversity conference in Kunming, including ambitious biodiversity conservation targets and practical mechanisms to reach those targets.

“COP15 is probably the most important Conference of the Parties because we are preparing very important decisions,” said Thomas Ostrup Moller, Danish ambassador to China, adding that the conference would be the first step for countries to alter the curve of biodiversity loss.

“I hope we get an overlooking political declaration at the end of COP15. The Chinese presidency is really eager to set the course, so we can actually make some changes here.”

China vows to work with other nations ahead of UN biodiversity summit

Signe Brudeset, Norwegian ambassador to China, said she hoped to see countries engaged in Kunming.

“We do hope there will be a declaration from the Kunming meetings,” she said. “It is also very important that in this pandemic period … the meeting is actually happening and the countries are really engaged.”

One way to avoid the failure of the Aichi biodiversity goals, which were set a decade ago in Japan, was to focus on the implementation, she said.

In 2019, the Norwegian Ministry for Climate and Environment proposed the CBD include a tailored implementation mechanism in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. It suggested having a global stocktake every five years to measure progress against the post-2020 global biodiversity targets and the 2050 vision.

“[We should] focus on how to measure progress so that we don’t come to the end to realise we only achieved few targets, like this time,” said Christoffer Gronstad, environmental counsellor at the Norwegian embassy in China.

Meanwhile, Brudeset added that China now had a good opportunity to show it took biodiversity seriously and a possibility of including biodiversity, climate and other environmental issues in its cooperation among developing countries.

“It was a very important signal from President Xi when he said that China would no longer finance coal abroad, so if we can see China pushing biodiversity in the same way, that’s important,” she said citing an announcement by Xi at the United Nations General Assembly last month.

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