“This UN conference on Biodiversity is indeed, as important as COP26, stating this week in Kunming, China.
We hope this will be another possible area of friendly competition between China and the USA to reach for higher goals on climate crises before COP26 in Glasgow, in November. See my article “ESG Stakeholder Capitalism and China’s Common Prosperity“, www.ethicalmarkets.com
Hazel Henderson, Editor“
Days before phase one of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming, the meetings look constrained in ambition and stalled in progress.
After an 17-month delay because of the coronavirus, global negotiations overseen by China about how to arrest ecological destruction over the next decade will kick off with mostly virtual meetings. International stakeholders complain about a lack of access, public participation remains invisible and a draft of the declaration likely to emerge from the summit doesn’t include any specific targets.
China’s endangered Green Peafowl Friends of Nature
The gathering is China’s biggest chance to solidify the global climate leadership sought by President Xi Jinping, who surprised world leaders last year when he declared that the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases would reach net zero by 2060. It will be China’s first major UN meeting since it hosted the 1995 World Conferences on Women, and state media have compared it to the 2015 climate meeting in Paris, site of a landmark deal to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels.
“Environment is a really important area for Chinese leaders,” said Alex Wang, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “They believe there’s a real problem, and it helps to create a sense abroad that China is not only doing things for itself, but also providing a global good.”
It’s unlikely that China will secure a major breakthrough. While efforts to cut planet-warming emissions have gained unprecedented public support in recent years, biodiversity has lagged. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity that underpins the Kunming meeting doesn’t have a high-level target like the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal. None of its 20 targets set for the end of 2020 have been met. The meeting next week is meant to outline what countries must do this decade to conserve natural habitats, cut plastic waste and pesticides and raise funds to help developing nations protect ecosystems.
Although China has announced its own biodiversity policies and goals, the host of an international summit generally aims to put forward targets for all participating countries. China has done little publicly in the way of negotiation or groundwork.
“China has to do the diplomatic outreach to different countries on many particular sticky issues that will be on the tables of the negotiations, such as resource mobilization, implementation mechanism, and financing,” said Georgina Chandler, senior policy officer at Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Geopolitics has made a French-style approach hard for China. Since 2016, when it was announced that China would host next week’s conference, its relationship with the West has deteriorated on issues from trade to human rights. Instead of “pushing countries to agree on the agendas, China has been cautiously — and simply — building a platform for countries to express ideas and concerns, said Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the non-governmental organization China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.
“China also wants to give the leading role to UN,” said Zhou. “It is in line with China’s positions on other international affairs to be low-key on the stage.”
Two weeks before the meeting’s opening ceremony, the biodiversity convention’s Montreal-based leadership released the final draft of the Kunming Declaration to be agreed upon next week. Conservationists say it lacks specificity and fails to commit any country to new goals. “It misses an opportunity to provide a leap to the stalled multilateral process, and it also reflects China’s desire to not prejudge the Kunming outcome,” said Li Shuo, a campaigner at Greenpeace based in Beijing.
China has expertise to export, from a decades-old campaign that has created tens of millions of hectares of forests, to the protection of endangered species, to Xi’s theory of “ecological civilization” that emphasizes living in harmony with nature. The nation saw the Kunming conference “as an opportunity to champion some of the environmental issues and ways of thinking that they care about and want to showcase to the world,” said Chandler.
Then came the pandemic. The conference has been postponed twice already and this time a compromise solution is to split it into two parts. The first takes place virtually in October as a “high-level meeting,” but real negotiations won’t happen until next April.
The Covid restrictions made public participation almost impossible in the past two years, which could otherwise have raised awareness. Some nongovernment organizations said they found it difficult to get clear information about the arrangements of the meeting — or even about which virtual platforms will be used.
“The lack of public participation means it would be really hard to make a very successful meeting.” said Zhou, “It is a mission that requires the whole society to participate.”
Despite the frustrations, the two-phase solution may have a silver lining. The six months between October and the second phase in April could give China time to persuade countries to agree on goals such as protecting 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030, as well as building a mechanism to implement the goals in every member country.
Since Kunming is only three weeks before the UN’s major climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the hope is also that Xi will announce something that addresses both climate and nature protection at the opening ceremony.
“It would be interesting for us to see if China will be more engaged in the months to come, as it takes the presidency — in particular whether they will seek to engage more with stakeholders and the media,” said Chandler. “At the moment this has been limited and sometimes unclear.” — John Liu and Karoline Kan