December 27, 2022
Berlin, Kyoto, The Hague, New Delhi, Buenos Aires, Poznań, Doha, Glasgow or even Paris : a city in the world has hosted the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) every year since 1995.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created in 1992 during the third Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It has invited the 197 countries and the European Union to meet every year during COPs, also gathering NGOs, companies, trade unions, indigenous people and scientists.
Among the most important dates, we will of course remember 1995 with the COP1 in Berlin where nearly 130 delegates from different countries started the first discussions in order to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in the near future. The COP3 in Kyoto led to the well known Kyoto Protocol, requiring developed countries to reduce their emissions by 5% during the period from 2008 to 2012 compared to 1990, as of February 2005. Although it was insufficient, in retrospect, this COP was considered as a success, compared to COP15 in Copenhagen, which failed to renegotiate the quantitative targets of the Kyoto Protocol.
43 years after the first Earth Summit in Stockholm, - the starting point of negotiations on climate and environment -, the Paris Agreement that was passed at the COP21 on December 12th, 2015, defines a legal framework binding countries to keep global warming below the limit of 2 degrees Celsius, or even 1, 5 °C compared to the pre-industrial era.
Although occuring late, a major step had just been taken and could have led one to believe that the following COPs would definitely be part of this dynamics to finally translate the Paris Agreement into strong and concrete actions in the short term. Although COP 22 (Marrakech), COP 23 (Bonn), COP 24 (Katowice), COP 25 (Madrid) and COP 26 (Glasgow) have of course brought their share of progress, some points of implementation, - such as a global commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 or the payment of 100 billion dollars that developed countries have committed to mobilize each year to help southern countries to fight against global warming -, are still slow to materialize, while every tenth of a degree counts.
So much so that after the failure of Glasgow and the tears of its president Alok Sharma apologizing for the disappointing Glasgow Pact, a number of voices are questioning the relevance of these annual meetings in their current form. Greta Thunberg announced that she would not be going to Sharm el-Sheikh explaining that it would be « an opportunity for leaders [...] to get attention for all sorts of greenwashing or communication operations and pretend to act against the climate crisis ». António Guterres, the UN General Secretary, was hardly more lenient, declaring once again that « We are heading towards a global catastrophe. We need climate action on all fronts and we need it now. »
In this context the COP 27 took place from November 6th to 20th, on the shores of the Red Sea, in Sharm el-Sheikh. The fourth country in Africa to host the great climate media jamboree, the negotiations have focused mainly on finance, management of the climate change consequences and new ambitions to reduce emissions. As it was concluded with 39 hours’ delay, we will mainly remember from the final declaration, the creation of an aid fund for loss and damage for vulnerable countries severely affected by climate disasters and a « transition committee » responsible for making recommendations on how to operationalize the new financing mechanisms at the COP28 to be held in 2023 in Dubai. As the clock is ticking, let's hope that these are not just more good intentions with no end in sight.
Regarding the repeated reports and warnings made by scientists for decades, the results of the climate COPs therefore appear to be somewhat disappointing. What about the biodiversity COPs ?
Much less publicized than the climate COPs, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity was also created during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, at the same time as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). These are three sister conventions concerning three systemic and existential challenges for human kind. Every year we are consuming 1.7 planets and 6 of the 9 planetary limits have already been exceeded. Whether it is pollination, the 35,000 plants that human beings are using for medicine, food and materials, or the forests that constitute natural carbon sinks, mankind depends on 50,000 wild species to live, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The services provided by ecosystems correspond to 40% of the world economy.
While there is only one human species on earth, France alone is home to 10% of the world's species, i.e. 18,782 species of flowering plants, 4,390 species of lichens, 10,926 species of fungi, 435 species of mammals, 180 species of amphibians, 3,621 species of mosses, 418 species of reptiles, 1,766 species of birds and 10,019 species of crustaceans. As the fresco of the National Museum of Natural History reminds us, it is time that « man reconciles himself with nature by allowing the harmonious functioning of both, in a common interest ».
Three weeks after the Sharm el-Sheikh COP27 and after several key figures of the Paris Agreement, including Laurent Fabius, have called for an agreement of a similar magnitude, recalling that the climate objectives cannot be achieved without curbing the destruction of nature, Montreal hosted the COP15 on biodiversity from December 7th to 19 th, 2022. As if compensating for the lackluster results of Sharm el-Sheikh, the Montreal biodiversity COP15 concluded with a new strategic plan for the period 2022-2030, through the passing of the « Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework ». It is taking over from the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, that was adopted by the parties at COP10 in Nagoya, and, through the mobilization of $200 billion per year, is aiming at :
- Restoring at least 30% of degraded areas by 2030,
- Protecting 30% of the world land, coastal areas and inland waters by the end of the decade,
- Reducing the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance to « close to zero » by 2030.
As there is no stable climate without high biodiversity, the same applies to stakeholders. The COPs alone cannot do everything. While they are an essential forum for global dialogue, governments, financial institutions, businesses, NGOs and civil society must each assume their responsibilities and do their own part.
As far as companies in particular are concerned, their ability to assess and disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on climate, biodiversity and resources is now mandatory. With this in mind, methodologies and common languages such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) or the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) are there to help them to grasp these issues with force and contribute to meeting the challenges we are facing.
1. COP27 Reaches Breakthrough Agreement on New “Loss and Damage” Fund for Vulnerable Countries : https://unfccc.int/news/cop27-reaches-breakthrough-agreement-on-new-loss-and-damage-fund-for-vulnerable-countries
2. The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services : www.ipbes.net/global-assessment
3. Fondation GoodPlanet : www.goodplanet.org/fr/
4. Convention on Biological diversity - Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework, Montreal, Canada, 7-19 December 2022 : https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/e6d3/cd1d/daf663719a03902a9b116c34/cop-15-l-25-en.pdf
5. Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures : https://tnfd.global/