What is COP15 and why is it so important?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and this year will be the 15th time the nations who have signed up to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity have held a COP, the convention’s supreme decision-making meeting.

This year, in Montreal, marks the first time the COP has met in person since 2018. It will be part 2 of the Conference that was supposed to take place in 2020, but was delayed because of the pandemic. The first part was conducted virtually in October 2021.

Right now, biodiversity destruction is at an all-time high. Humans are causing the extinction of species faster than any point in history, through habitat destruction, including land-clearing for agriculture, pollution, climate change, and over consumption. This unprecedented pace of nature destruction risks our unique animals and plants, ecosystem health, economic stability, our wellbeing, and will trigger ecological tipping points if it continues.

Few countries have more at stake than Australia. We have more unique plant and animal species than almost any other country. Nature is part of our identity—it’s on our money and we name our sports teams after it. Nature also underpins the Australian economy. But we are a world leader at extinction and a global hotspot for deforestation.

That’s why this COP represents a pivotal opportunity. Every 10 years governments set new nature targets for the coming decade. In 2010, at COP10 in Aichi, Japan, governments agreed to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, expand nature reserves to 17% of the world's land area by 2020, and conserve 10% of coastal and marine areas. Yet, none of the ‘Aichi’ targets were met. 

The pressure is on for COP15 member states to set a strong decade-long roadmap for the protection of biological diversity at a time it’s urgently needed.

The three COPs that matter for all life on Earth

The original “Earth Summit” in Rio in 1992 created three Conventions—on desertification, on biodiversity, and on climate. They are all interconnected and global progress in each is necessary to achieve targets in the others. In recent years, media attention has focused on the climate COP, even though the world’s scientists warn us that we must solve the twin climate and nature crises or we will solve neither.

The Climate COP (COP27) got underway in early November, just before the Biodiversity COP. All eyes are on Egypt where countries will gather to take action on a rapidly closing window to avert climate catastrophe. At COP21 in Paris in 2015, countries agreed to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Subsequent climate COPs have tried to support action on the target through climate finance and targets on reducing methane emissions. But actual progress has been insufficient.

The desertification COP took place in May in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s the least well-known COP of the three, but has important targets agreed to by 197 countries. The desertification COP agreed to galvanize sustainable solutions for land restoration and drought resilience, with a strong focus on future-proofing land use.​

The Biodiversity COP forms the last pillar of the trio. Its focus on protecting nature and halting and reversing nature destruction. For it to be successful, countries will need to set strong targets to protect land and oceans and ensure the resourcing is available to implement the targets to have any chance reversing nature destruction.

Who goes to these COPs?

COP15 attendees are made up of delegations from nation states that have signed the Convention, and even some that have not (for example, the US is not a signatory to the CBD, but it is sending a special envoy to COP15). Nation states might send ministers, or senior leaders from their environment portfolios. They will be joined by representatives from NGOs, business groups, Indigenous nations, environment groups, world-leading scientists, and the media.

This year, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will be attending COP15 in Montreal. It’s a step in the right direction from the Federal Government—it signifies the importance of the Conference for strong action and collaboration with other countries.  

What do we need from COP15 to protect nature?

This year, targets that countries will debate at COP15 include: proposals to protect 30% of land and sea, end extinction, force business to reduce harmful impacts on nature, cut chemical pollution, and restore degraded freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems.

But if they’re not delivered at a country-level with strong laws, and funding for implementation, they’ll be worth nothing more than the paper they’re written on.

This COP is the biggest meeting for nature in a decade. It’s the meeting the world will be watching and relying on, for the survival of nature itself and the protection of all life—including our own.

ACF are headed to Montreal as an official observer organisation. We’ll be in the negotiating room along with other Australian and international NGOs to pressure governments to deliver the ambitious framework nature needs. We’ll bring breaking news, videos and interviews from Biodiversity COP15 as it happens.

ACF is going to the 15th meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) – and invite you to hear what’s important as it happens from our team in Montreal this December.

Our team on the ground in Montreal is: Kelly O’Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer, Nat Pelle, Nature Campaigner, and Tessa Stevens, Video Producer.

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Nathaniel Pelle

Business and Biodiversity Campaign Lead