UN biodiversity meet moved from China amid ‘zero-COVID’ approach

December’s UN Convention on Biological Diversity will now take place in Montreal, Canada, world body says.

A red panda is pictured perched among cherry blossoms
The COP15 conference will aim to adopt a global framework for biodiversity to halt and reverse losses of the world's plants, animals, and ecosystems [File: Rebecca Naden/Reuters]

The United Nations has said it will move talks to secure a global post-2020 biodiversity agreement from China to Canada because of the former’s strict anti-coronavirus policies.

The December 5-17 summit of the UN UN Biodiversity Conference – known as COP15 – will take place in Montreal instead of Kunming, its secretariat said in a statement on Tuesday.

China has stuck to a strict “zero-COVID” policy that has limited international visitors and repeatedly locked down parts or all of cities to stamp out any outbreak of the virus. The approach is increasingly at odds with other major countries that have loosened restrictions and moved towards living with the disease.

Initially scheduled to take place in Kunming in October 2020, COP15 was delayed due to COVID-19.

A first round of discussions was held virtually in October 2021 and negotiations were meant to reconvene in the southwestern Chinese city in April, but the talks were repeatedly postponed due to the pandemic.

“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,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the convention, said in Tuesday’s statement.

Despite the change of venue to the seat of the secretariat in Montreal, China will continue to serve as president of the upcoming summit and the theme and logo will remain unchanged.

Calls for an ‘ambitious’ agreement

The COP15 conference will aim to adopt a global framework for biodiversity to halt and reverse losses of the world’s plants, animals, and ecosystems.

The effort, similar to the landmark Paris climate agreement, aims to create long-term nature protection goals for mid-century and shorter-term targets for 2030, pushing for the convention’s 195 signatories to enshrine these targets in national policies.

One of the most notable draft targets is to conserve 30 percent of land and sea areas globally by 2030, but financing for poorer nations to help them meet this and other targets has long been a sticking point.

Li Shuo, a policy adviser for Greenpeace China, said in a Twitter post that the announcement of the new location “should focus everyone’s minds … on the quality of the deal”.

He called for “ambitious protection targets, [a] robust implementation mechanism, and a strong finance package”.

Brian O’Donnell, director of the conservation-focused Campaign for Nature non-profit organisation, said it was “critical that the whole world comes together behind Canada and China to deliver an ambitious and adequately funded agreement in Montreal”.

According to the most recent Protected Planet report by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 17 percent of land habitats and about seven percent of marine areas were protected by 2020.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies