Cop15 Summit Cop15 Summit. Photo: UN Biodiversity / CC BY 2.0

John Clarke reports on the deception of the Cop15 and how mass movements can arrest the threat to life on this planet and help build a rational and sustainable society

As the Cop15 biodiversity summit unfolds in Montreal, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that it will offer any real solutions to the huge problems it is supposed to address. The decisions that will emerge from its deliberations will reflect the interests of the very corporate interests that are driving the destructive process that is threatening life on this planet.

The severity of the crisis that will be under discussion in Montreal can’t be overstated. A report issued by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has concluded that ‘Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history’ and that ‘The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide’.

The report concludes that a threat of extinction now hangs over around a million animal and plant species. It identifies the ‘five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts’. These are ‘(1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species’.

The IPBES is also clear that ‘biodiversity targets’ are simply not being met on an international scale. It explains that ‘global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors’. Whatever else may be said, the participants in Cop15 do not lack clear information on the scale and seriousness of the threat to life on this planet that they have gathered to consider.

Corporate agenda

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is advanced by Conference of Parties (Cop) meetings that take place every few years. Though these meetings, including the present one, have been billed as opportunities to make meaningful advances, ‘Experts and civil society groups denounced the CBD’s reliance on financing schemes like offsets, and worry that the growing presence of corporate lobbyists will result in loopholes, watered-down targets and dead-end technofixes’.

A new set of targets that will be under discussion in Montreal includes ‘protecting 30 per cent of land and sea areas globally, halting or mitigating the spread of invasive species, and a major reduction in pesticides and plastic pollution’. However, the long history of failure to meet the targets set at these gatherings is reason enough to doubt the prospects for the undertakings that emerge this time. Beyond this, however, the risk is that Cop15 will actually further dangerous and harmful approaches that ‘could accelerate ecological destruction’.

The ‘biodiversity framework’ that will be under discussion seeks to redirect some of the ‘nearly US$500 billion each year’ that extractive industries receive in subsidies so as to financially reward them for preserving life, instead of destroying it. These resources would then be augmented by private financing, creating a situation, as some environmentalists have pointed out, where ‘biodiversity institutions (become) dependent on private sector interests’.

Cop15 will also be considering a measure that can readily be compared to the system of ‘carbon offsets’ that has been developed as a fake solution to the climate crisis. Under this arrangement, ‘a company buys ‘carbon credits’—making up for greenhouse gas emissions by paying someone else to plant trees or invest in green energy’. In the same way, ‘Biodiversity offsets’ would allow a company to engage in environmentally destructive behaviour in one area, if it supported a positive initiative somewhere else. ‘Scientifically it doesn’t make sense… You’re talking about totally different ecosystems’.

The summit will also be considering a particularly dangerous form of ‘tech fix’. It has been suggested that wild populations might be protected through genetic modification that could ‘preserve biodiversity by rendering invasive species infertile’. There is pressure from business interests to have the CBD abandon its present ‘precautionary principle,’ in favour of an ‘innovation principle’, thereby clearing the way for such initiatives.

The unchecked application of such approaches could be disastrous. ‘Using gene drives to modify wild populations of organisms that eat crops—like fruit flies—could create dangerous precedents and have unpredictable effects on the stability of ecological systems’. Moreover, the use of such technology in the reckless furthering of industrial agriculture poses huge risks to both biodiversity and global health.

Questions of biodiversity are, of course, deeply related to the ownership and control of the land and, the dispossession of Indigenous people over much of the earth is a huge consideration in this regard. Cop15 is likely to pay scant attention to Indigenous rights and a great deal more to the interests of those who trample on them. The Montreal summit was challenged on this very question by ‘CollectifCop15, representing 100 groups across Quebec civil society’ with a demand that ‘Indigenous peoples should be the ones to govern the conservation of their land instead of colonial governments’.

Cop15 challenged

Resistance to the agenda being advanced at the summit has been taken up on the streets of Montreal. Students have engaged in strike action and a string of protests have challenged the gathering. One protester interviewed by the media put things quite clearly when he noted that “It basically gaslights the population into thinking that these people are going to solve anything when for the last 20 years they’ve been making goals for themselves and not actually even reaching their own objectives”.

The great value of this mobilisation against the summit is that it has challenged the basic agenda of the CBD initiative, rather than placing any false hopes in it. The duplicity and deception at work at the Montreal conference centre can be readily compared to similar exercises on the climate crisis. The recent Cop27 in Egypt brought together a very similar group of international players and unfolded along lines that closely resemble those playing out at the present summit.

These high-profile gatherings can’t be viewed as good faith attempts to address the environmental threats we face. The harmful directions being followed at Cop15 are not attributable to wrong thinking or mistaken approaches. The gathering is dominated by the political enablers of the very capitalist interests that have led us to this point of several sided environmental catastrophe. As such, they can’t be expected to meaningfully address impacts that are being generated by a social and economic system that is incapable of creating a sustainable relationship with the natural world.

The Cop gatherings, quite predictably, serve to buy time, preserve legitimacy and advance false solutions. The pursuit of profit and the avoidance of measures that might place limits on it, are their real agenda. Whether they talk of the climate crisis or the rampant destruction of life on this planet, the preservation of profit remains the paramount concern.

Bloomberg recently reported that ‘Companies invested $58 billion in oil and gas projects in 2021 and 2022 that will only be required if fossil fuel demand grows to a level at which scientists forecast a ‘climate catastrophe.’ Beyond even this, ‘They may pull the trigger on a further $23 billion of investments next year that would help warm the planet more than 2.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels’.

This represents the clearest evidence possible that the fossil fuel companies won’t change course whatever the environmental consequences. In exactly the same way, the political decision makers and corporate lobbyists at Cop understand only too well the enormity of the threat to life on this planet and what must be done to preserve it but they won’t stop the assault on nature.

Clearly, gatherings like Cop15 are part of the problem, rather than contributions to a solution. If the hands of those responsible for environmental destruction are to be stayed, it will require mass movements and powerful forms of social mobilisation. If we are to build the kind of just, rational and sustainable society we need, it will be in struggle against those whose representatives are presently gathered in Montreal.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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