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What Should We Expect From the First Phase of COP15? Definitely Watch It!

Never a dull moment in Beijing. We are still celebrating last week’s announcement about coal in overseas investments, which could well be the biggest news in the global climate space this year. At the same time, the public attention has quickly shifted to power shortages which are causing disruptions across the country. While some are blaming climate policies, the leading cause is clearly a shortage in the supply of coal. Beyond resolving the immediate shortages, this episode highlights the need to continue to rigorously control new high energy consuming projects, and to double down on the roll-out of renewables.

Surprisingly, I’ve seen little international interest in the upcoming first phase of COP15, scheduled to take place in Kunming right after the national holiday. This may be because no formal negotiations will take place during the opening segment – the next negotiations will be taking place in Switzerland in January 2022, with a view to achieving a global agreement at the second phase of COP15 in Kunming in April or May 2022.

Still, I believe the first phase could have some exciting news for nature in store. While I don’t want to build high expectations, I would certainly recommend watching as it will mark China taking over the presidency of CBD, so it is the time for China to shine, and inject some much-needed momentum into the global biodiversity arena.

Due to COVID, I expect to be one of the few foreign NGO representatives in the room. The following are some of the key areas in which we might see a breakthrough. Many of these points took inspiration from the excellent policy studies conducted by CCICED in the past years, including the policy recommendations for 2020 and 2021:

  • Financial contribution from China to global biodiversity conservation. Far too little financial resources are currently made available to biodiversity conservation, especially in the developing world. I would go as far as saying that the availability of sufficient financial resources could be the key to securing an ambitious and realistic post-2020 global framework for biodiversity. When Japan hosted the Aichi CBD COP10, it committed 20 million USD to global biodiversity conservation. I expect China’s commitment will exceed that amount by a large margin. If China takes the lead in making an ambitious financial commitment, it would likely spur other countries to step up their level of resource mobilization, especially the rich, developed nations. It would also help to stimulate progress in important discussions such as how to best spend government resources, whether new global funding mechanisms are needed, and how to better leverage private sector resources.
  • Ecological redlines in China. China has been working on the delineation of ecological redlines for many years now, and my understanding is that this work should be completed soon. Many environmental advocates have called for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to embrace as a key target that 30% of the planet should be protected by 2030. My understanding is that China may well be ready to commit to protecting over 30% of its land area within ecological redlines, but it is far more uncertain what share of marine areas it is ready to protect. Two other potentially interesting announcements could be inclusion of carbon sequestration function into the ecological redlines, and a commitment towards sharing China’s experience in ecological redlines with other countries. The methodology of ecological redline delineation is world class – it combines assessments of biodiversity value, ecosystem services value, and disaster risk prevention value. The result is the designation of ecological redlines across the full range from remote to highly populated areas, and their economic benefits are an integral part of their rationale.
  • China’s international investments and trade. One of the key drivers behind global biodiversity loss is the conversion of rainforest for the production of soft commodities such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper, and timber. Infrastructure and power projects such as roads, ports, and hydropower plants can also have serious negative consequences for biodiversity. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing continues to deplete the world’s oceans. If China could successfully green its value chains – which is much easier said than done – it would be the greatest contribution to global biodiversity protection that it could possibly make. The Chinese government is increasingly aware of these risks, and I’m sensing a shift in mindset. We see especially great progress in greening of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the recent policy document “Green Development Guidance for Overseas Investment and Trade” strongly emphasizes environmental safeguards in investment projects, and encourages companies to speed up integration with the global green supply chain, carry out green procurement, and purchase environmentally friendly products and services. If China sends high level signals towards the urgency of reducing the biodiversity impacts of China’s overseas trade, it would be a real breakthrough, which would spur a major acceleration of efforts to achieve this.
  • China’s climate efforts. The climate and nature agendas are strongly interlinked. It’s possible that we’ll get some important news about China’s climate efforts ahead of COP26. For example, China might announce an absolute target for carbon peaking. This would be significant because it would switch China from the ‘intensity-based’ goals to absolute goals, which are much easier to understand, give certainty for the climate and are easier to break down across provinces and sectors within China. We’re also soon expecting a national roadmap for carbon peaking, including key provinces and sectors, and an updated NDC which might cover non-CO2 emissions like methane, for example. However, I temper my expectations for big climate announcements because the recent power shortages across China might cause hesitation among the central government towards stepping up climate commitments right at this time.

China plays such a critical role in both the climate and nature agendas, and I hope that COP15 will again demonstrate China’s leadership. The CCICED community has made important contributions in advising China’s State Council on many of the above issues. We can play a key role in sharing China’s environmental progress with the international community, so please make sure to tune in for the first phase of COP15!

The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CCICED.

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