My impressions of the COP15
Illustrations by poorva goel
This article was written by GEN member Poorva Goel, who was present at the COP15 as part of the Youth Communicators, a group of five young biodiversity communication experts from different regions of the planet.
At the latest meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montreal, 196 countries adopted a framework for conserving our biodiversity in the next 10 years. This conference is the lesser-known sibling of the Climate COP. When working towards a habitable and just planet, conserving biodiversity goes hand in hand with reversing climate change.
Unfortunately, much of the media’s eyes were focused on the 2022 FIFA World Cup that was taking place at the same time in Qatar. Additionally, the absence of world leaders at the COP15 further undermined this crucial meeting about the collective future of our planet.
Termed our “last best chance” to save the planet’s species and ecosystems from irreversible destruction, the COP15 received the largest youth delegation in its history. As the planet’s future custodians, it was crucial for youth to not only be present but also participate in the creation of this critical framework.
With incessant headlines of drowning cities, disappearing species and burning rainforests across the planet, it is not surprising that a lot of young people, like me, suffer from a sense of grief, helplessness and fear for the future. It is empowering to see that despite this, young people find the hope, courage and determination to demand a seat at the table.
At the COP15, young people made their presence felt in the streets and in policy rooms. The Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), the official youth delegation to the CBD, has played a massive role in this success. Completely youth-led, GYBN has created tools, space and community, making complex processes like the CBD COP accessible to more youth from every global region, equipping them to question the status quo and take charge of their future.
The GYBN policy team worked tirelessly to track negotiations, lobby parties that could support their positions, draft interventions and organise bilateral meetings with national and regional party groups. No sooner was the framework accepted than the GYBN team was ready to work on the next phase: ensuring the on-ground implementation of the framework in collaboration with the parties.
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house
“80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is on indigenous lands and indigenous people are 5 percent of the world’s population. There is a correlation between that and the worldviews of the indigenous communities,” said Helena Gualinga, an activist from the Kichwa Sarayaku community in Ecuador. Indigenous knowledge should lead the way to the CBD’s goal of living in harmony with nature by 2050.
Indigenous and the global youth successfully contested the inclusion of the term ‘nature-postive’ that was championed by corporations and large NGOs. Many feared that the lack of clarity in defining nature-postive would lead to offsetting or other greenwashing ploys by big corporations. If we even consider biodiversity offsets as a potential solution at spaces like the CBD COP, do we really understand ‘biodiversity’ and its complexity?
Can a mechanistic worldview that has led us to this destruction also salvage us from it? Or do we need a different set of tools- a different language than the kind used in spaces like the COP?
A large portion of the world’s natural resources are in countries of the Global South which has led to their historical and current over-exploitation by the Global North. Among parties from the resource-rich countries of the Global South, there was a sense of frustration with the Global North’s unwillingness to provide the resources to deliver the targets laid out by the framework. Consequently, this led to a walkout of more than 70 nations during negotiations on resource mobilisation. In the end, the budget that was estimated at 3 trillion received 30 billion from the developed nations and the rest 170 billion is expected to be fulfilled by the private sector. This is a cause for concern as the involvement of corporate funding would mean that corporations would have a greater say in the implementation of the framework.
The framework is not legally binding which poses a great challenge to its on-ground implementation by governments. In the previous decade, the CBD had adopted the Aichi Targets (21 targets for biodiversity conservation) at the COP10 in Japan, in 2010. Not a single one of the 21 targets was achieved by 2020.
While the CBD’s track record leaves one feeling less than hopeful for the future, I personally regained a lot of faith through this experience. It was reassuring to see up close the impact that youth, indigenous people and women have had in securing an unprecedented rights-based framework at the COP15. Individuals brought their unique skill sets as researchers, activists, practitioners, and artists, working in collaboration with one another to build a stronger collective movement.
Countries from the Global North on the one hand pledge to conserve biodiversity and on the other continue to extract resources from the last remaining biodiverse parts of the world.
In India, formerly a British colony, the false narrative of development comes at the cost of colonising its own people and biodiversity. In January 2023, shortly after signing the CBD COP15 framework, the Indian government gave a green light to a mega infrastructure project in Great Nicobar Island. This project violates the rights of indigenous communities and threatens the habitat of several endemic species.
Governments carrying on with ‘business as usual’ makes one wonder if these commitments for halting and reversing biodiversity loss are mere lip service. Can we prioritise equity for people and nature and in so doing, safeguard our own future?
Poorva was present at the COP15 as a youth delegate. She was part of the Youth Communicators, a group of five young biodiversity communication experts from different regions of the planet. This was a cooperative project between the WWF, GYBN and Deutsche Welle and supported by funding from the International Climate Initiative (IKI).
Poorva is a cartoonist and graphic storyteller who has been working on themes of social and ecological justice and is interested in documenting people, places and paradigms. All thoughts expressed here are personal impressions and not reflective of positions held by any organization.