The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Kunming COP15, planned for October but now postponed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of Li Shuo’s priorities for this year, who is a Senior Global Policy Advisor for Greenpeace East Asia. Implementation mechanisms are their main focus, in order to ensure that set targets can be reached. According to Li Shuo, there are many challenges ahead of us. Nevertheless, 2020 offers a great opportunity to strengthen the understanding that biodiversity and climate change are intrinsically linked and to find a concrete definition of Nature-based Solutions to cope with climate change.
What is the role of Greenpeace East Asia / China in the area of biodiversity conservation, in particular regarding the multilateral process and the upcoming Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) COP15 in Kunming? What are your expectations and goals, and how are you engaged?
Li Shuo: We are in contact with the colleagues at the GIZ Beijing office quite frequently, both on the climate change issue but also increasingly, biodiversity. I basically cover several UN environmental commissions: The UN Climate commission, the UN Biodiversity commission and a little bit of the UN commission on the Law of the Sea as well. The upcoming CBD COP15 in October is one of my priorities for this year. Our approach primarily consists of policy advocacy and policy engagement in several UN environmental commissions. It is sort of a legacy work for Greenpeace. We have been very active in high-profile commissions all the way back to the 1980s and 1990s. Regarding the CBD COP15 in Kunming, it will primarily be our Chinese office who deals with the policy work. There are several things we are digging into. Most of the substantive issues are related to the Kunming COP15, issues ranging from target design to implementation to finance support, whether it’s some of the rather icky and niche issues, such as the benefit sharing of genetic resources. So, a rather analytical, policy-oriented approach, getting our hands dirty, negotiating issues. On the other hand, we are also very much focused on the actual engagement with different countries and regions, such as China, Germany, Norway, the European Union and the African group, but also our NGO partners, media, think tanks and academia. So that is kind of our overall approach or methodology. We also have a very important focus on implementation mechanisms for the Kunming COP15. The reason for that is actually very simple. A lot of the times, energy – both by the official negotiating partners but also by our NGO partners so far – has been concentrated on designing the post 2020 biodiversity protection targets. We think it is a better and probably also a more strategic use of our time to focus on things that are not focused on by others. Implementation mechanisms are very important because targets only tell you where we should be in 2030, but do not necessarily tell you how you actually get there. I happen to have also been engaged with the UN climate negotiations in the past. We completed something called the Paris Rulebook, which is essentially a set of rules to facilitate actual implementation. And essentially, what we are looking for in the CBD is the equivalent of that rulebook. So, as we gained experience and expertise in designing and crafting rules under the real conventions in the past, we decided to pay particular attention on this issue.
Which signals can be expected by the climate community from Kunming?
Li Shuo: It is a very relevant question. I think the climate-biodiversity linkage is another area where we happen to have some expertise and experience. Namely, I myself engage with those issues. It is important to be clear with the areas’ dimensions of the climate and biodiversity connection. There is the very technical level connection, so for example in the ongoing CBD negotiations, there is an effort to design or to dedicate a target that deals with the connection between climate and biodiversity. It is really about the question how you design that target. But also, there is the practical aspect of it. The biodiversity COP and the climate change COP will essentially happen back to back to each other and both COPs may expect some high-level representation. So, there is a political point to be made there and then of course there is the constant narrative, which is surfing on a wave of the two COPs. We need to strengthen the understanding and the perception that these two issues are intrinsically linked.
What are your expectations regarding Nature-based Solutions (NBS) to cope with climate change?
Li Shuo: My personal observation is, that there has been a lot of effort in highlighting what NBS should not be, for example a greenwashing exercise. They should take into account the biodiversity/social-economic conservation, the rights of indigenous people, the rights of land holders. Compared to that, it is relatively unclear what NBS are. That is something that needs to be defined and I think, here we are at the very beginning. When the term NBS got momentum, it was meant to be just an umbrella term, a term that would be flexible and encompass quite a number of things. But on the other hand, now that there are more political interests to advance this issue, we cannot just rely on a rather fluffy definition. There is a need for a more concise one. So how do we reconcile the tension between the fact that this term was born just to be an all-encompassing one, and now the interest to advance this issue and the need to grant this term a more concrete level? That will be an important and difficult conversation in the run-up to both the Kunming biodiversity and the Glasgow climate COP.
Why is it so important for the world to take biological diversity into consideration while perusing it`s climate goals of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C or well below 2.0°C?
Li Shuo: I believe the scientific evidence has already been clearly outlined. We are indeed facing a climate crisis but at the same time, a biodiversity loss crisis. I do not need to really venture into the IPCC findings, but maybe just to highlight that these two issues are intrinsically connected. I think it is encouraging, that this connection has been realized by the politicians over the past few months, at the political level. And I think if anything, 2020 indeed offers an opportunity to further strengthen the link between these two issues and that is exactly why it is important that the two COPs, the two processes, achieve a success towards the end of this year.
Imagine, we are in the year 2030: ideally, how are the international agendas on Biodiversity, on Climate Change, and on Sustainable Development working together and strengthening each other?
Li Shuo: I think that is a very good and very important question. Of course, to have a success towards 2030, we need to make a very firm stand this year. I just wanted to say that the message of urgency has been registered more by the public than politicians, I guess. I think that is the sad reality, but also there are still a lot of uncertainties for this year, for the success of this year. If we look at the climate side, some momentum has been lost since the 2015 Paris Conference. There is not a great level of clarity in terms of which countries will enhance their climate targets by the end of this year in accordance with the requirement of the Paris Agreement. So, there is a lot of uncertainty there, there is a lot geopolitical turbulence in the world, a lot of economic difficulties by different countries, including the Coronavirus of course, which is definitely negative news for the climate agenda in the Chinese context. I think biodiversity might actually be positively influenced by the Coronavirus, but the point is, we need to ensure 2020 gives us a solid ground or a solid stand and a lot of work needs to be done in this new decade. This applies to both climate and biodiversity, but I think particularly biodiversity because the goal for biodiversity is of course to have a pretty good track record to raise the profile of this issue every ten years and after that, they tend to forget about it until ten years after. That is exactly what happened in the year 2010 and each year we issued biodiversity targets and then everybody went back home, nobody really implemented them and then 2020, another round of momentum. So, let us hope that this issue, the momentum around biodiversity, is not going to run out. Let us hope they go back home and implement the visions in the Kunming deal. That is exactly why we are focusing on implementation, because to have that big splash in Kunming, to sustain that momentum, to actually make the countries do real work in the next ten years, that is more difficult. Particularly for biodiversity, because it has not been the main issue, it has not enjoyed the profile of climate change. For climate change, you go to a G7 or G20 or high-level bilateral meetings, and it is kind of already a default that it will be on the agenda. That is not the case for biodiversity, probably only once in a decade. So how do we ensure that this issue still attracts the attention, the willingness to take action? I think that will be very, very important. So, I do not think I answered your question in a very direct way, I am really more focusing on this year. Again, the point is, the difficulty is, the uncertainties ahead of us have not really given us the luxury to think about what could be in ten years’ time.
So, the public plays a very important role concerning the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss?
Li Shuo: Absolutely. For the moment, the public’s role on climate change is very prominent in the sense that in some parts of the world – I cannot say this applies to all countries – you can observe that over the past 12-24 months, the public sentiment has very much intensified. So, I think that is promising, but on the other hand, the politics of many other countries that are also important in combatting climate change has not been so favorable. We still need to stay positive and optimistic, but I think we should also not be naive and overly simplistic when we approach some of these issues. I can see many challenges ahead of us.