• Sarah Nelson, Associate Director |
5 min read

Why is there a Biodiversity and a Climate COP and could/should they be merged?

With the climate COP (UNFCCC COP27) just finishing and within a matter of weeks the Biodiversity COP (CBD COP15) kicking off, many are asking the reasons behind why there are two separate COP’s, particularly when they seemingly deal with overlapping and interlinked issues.

Background – how were the Conventions created?

The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 agreed to the establishment of three new conventions (“the Rio Conventions”). The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (to tackle climate change), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (to tackle biodiversity loss) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (to tackle issues related to land degradation and desertification). A special financial mechanism “The Global Environment Facility (the GEF)” was also set up just ahead of Rio (in 1991) to help fund environmental projects. It also serves as the financial mechanism to the three Rio Conventions (as well as a number of other conventions).

Why are there three Conventions when they are tackling overlapping issues?

The three separate Conventions were set up to tackle three different issues, recognising that whilst there is some significant overlap between the three, each also have their own agendas which are wider than the overlaps the three share. For example, climate change is just one of the five drivers of biodiversity loss and nature is just one of the solutions for tackling climate change.

How do the three Conventions communicate?

Recognising the overlaps between the three agendas and also the need to join up across them, a process called the “Rio Pavilions” was set up to convene discussions on the inter-related issues of biodiversity loss, climate change and land degradation. The Secretariats of the three Conventions also often meet to discuss how they can enhance joint working.

What initiatives have been launched over the year to merge the three COPs?

There have been a number of initiatives to bring the different agendas together. These include the following:

- A Rio Presidency Partnership Initiative (consisting of the Presidencies of each of the three Rio Conventions, their respective secretariats and the GEF) to discuss closer working across the three ConventionsThe Global Landscapes Forum – which was set up originally in the margins of the UNFCCC but has since become an entity in itself (and which focuses on tackling the climate/land/biodiversity nexus).

- Specific technical working groups looking at issues related to climate change and biodiversity with participation from both Conventions.

- A joint workshop between the two scientific bodies of the two conventions (IPCC and IPBES) looking at the science behind climate change and biodiversity

- Themed days at the COP’s e.g. “Nature Day at COP26” and “Biodiversity Day at COP27” etc

- There have also been separate initiatives and discussions to merge the work of the other Biodiversity Conventions (in addition to CBD, there are also a number of other Biodiversity Conventions including CMS, Ramsar and CITES, as well as work done on these issues by FAO and UNESCO).

Is there any precedents for merging these types of conventions?

- Yes! In 2012, the Secretariats of the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions (which deal with issues related to chemicals and waste) merged together into a single secretariat and hold back-to-back COP’s (known colloquially as the “Super COP”). However, negotiations to agree this took a number of years, the three Conventions were already housed in the same country and the size of these conventions were significantly smaller than those of the Rio Conventions, which all made this more achievable.

What are the barriers to merging the COPs?

There are a number of barriers to merging the COPs. These include:

- The fact that the agendas will simply be too big to tackle together in one convention).

- The membership of the three Conventions are different e.g. not all countries are Parties to all three Rio Conventions. For example, the US is not a Party to the CBD but they are a Party to the UNFCCC. The three Conventions all have their own dedicated secretariats (two of the three of which are housed in different countries). A merger would need to tackle issues such as how this could happen in practice.

- The finances of the three Conventions are also separate. While they do share a financial mechanism in the GEF, the UNFCCC also has additional financial mechanisms.

- Merging together the Conventions would therefore require each of these aspects to be negotiated and agreed between all of the Parties to all of the three Conventions. This would take up an enormous amount of time and energy which some may argue would be better spent focusing on implementation of the actions that the three Conventions were set up to tackle.

How do the Sustainable Development Goals fit into things?

The aim of the Sustainable Development Goals was to create an overarching umbrella framework which sets out the actions required to address both the main global environmental challenges (including on climate change, biodiversity loss etc) with the actions required to address the main international development challenges (and to provide a successor to the Millennium Development Goals). The SDG framework (which includes 17 goals and 169 targets) includes key actions to address both biodiversity loss and climate change mitigation. Given the breadth of the SDG agenda, specific focus to drive forwards actions on e.g. biodiversity loss and climate change are discussed and agreed under the respective Conventions dealing with these issues. The SDGs nevertheless are a helpful overarching guiding framework for driving action.

Supporting our clients to achieve double and triple wins!

Regardless of how these issues are governed at the global, regional and national levels, as each of these agendas develops and more guidance, targets and frameworks emerge, KPMG recognises the importance of helping and supporting businesses understand how they can maximise on the synergies between them, recognising that if strategies and plans are designed correctly, one plan could create a double (or triple!) win from a climate, land and nature perspective helping meet businesses net zero and nature positive targets.