UAs usual, N-Secretary General António Guterres chose rousing words to kick off the UN biodiversity conference in the southern Chinese city of Kunming. “We are losing our suicidal war on nature,” he said. The conference, which lasts until Friday, is “our chance for a ceasefire”. According to him, more than a million plant and animal species could become extinct in the next ten years.
However, the meeting started out far less ambitious than originally planned. Because of the pandemic, it was split into two parts. The crucial negotiations on a framework agreement with specific goals for the next decade were postponed to April and May 2022. This week’s gathering is almost entirely virtual.
China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping said in a video message on Tuesday the equivalent of 200 million euros for measures to protect species in developing countries. Concerns arose that China wanted to create its own fund instead of making the money available to the existing funds for such purposes. Xi Jinping also referred to the expansion of national parks and other protected areas in China. Its area of 230,000 square kilometers covers “almost 30 percent of the protected species living on land,” he said, according to the state media.
None of Aichi’s 20 goals were fully achieved
In doing so, Xi did not commit himself to the goal propagated by environmental protection organizations and supported by some states of placing 30 percent of land and sea areas under protection by the year 2030. But that wasn’t expected either. Until the preliminary negotiations in Switzerland in January, many countries are keeping a low profile. The broad range of topics includes, among other things, the use of pesticides and instruments for financing development in line with species protection.
For the first time, the Kunming Process gives China the opportunity to make a name for itself as the host of a UN Conference of the Parties. However, Beijing is unlikely to have any interest in the adoption of particularly ambitious goals during its presidency. Because if the goals are not achieved by 2030, the name Kunming would be associated with failure.
This is the case with the previous conference in Aichi, Japan, where a strategic plan for the years 2011 to 2020 was agreed. For example: the extension of the protected areas on land to 17 percent of the surface and to 10 percent at sea. None of Aichi’s 20 goals were fully achieved. In Kunming, the contracting states are still far apart with regard to their ideas. It remains to be seen whether China will succeed in building bridges. Beijing has traditionally been committed to increasing funding for developing countries. It is likely to be less ambitious when it comes to the question of how strict the requirements for reporting target achievement are, which from the point of view of some countries is a question of sovereignty.
A face-to-face meeting is planned for April
The Kunming conference was actually supposed to take place last year, up to which the Aichi action plan was in effect. But because of the pandemic, it was postponed. The virtual part this week is supposed to make sure that the thread of the conversation doesn’t completely lose its way. Little concrete is expected from the final declaration on Friday. In any case, the meeting is overshadowed by the UN climate conference in Glasgow in November. China’s most prominent environmentalist Ma Jun called for both processes to be more closely interlinked, for example with a view to wetlands and forests as CO2 stores. Next April, the delegates will come to Kunming in person to enter into tough negotiations.
China has chosen the capital of the particularly species-rich province of Yunnan on the border with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar as the conference venue. The biodiversity debate is still in its infancy in the country. This can also be read from Xi Jinping’s speech, in which he cited the migration of a herd of elephants that had walked several hundred kilometers towards Kunming as evidence of China’s success in species conservation. In doing so, they won the hearts of the Chinese public. Behavioral researchers pointed out, however, that the migration is probably a sign that the elephant’s habitat is coming under pressure.