What is CBD COP15?

This month in Montreal, Canada, delegates from around the world are meeting at COP15- the UN Conference on Biological Diversity, Conference of the Parties (COP15). The biodiversity COP takes place every 2 years, but this is the first time in 10 years that a new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is due to be adopted. Unfortunately, none of the previous targets set at COP10 in Japan have been met, so at COP15 it is crucial that a robust new framework is agreed and that it marks a so-called ‘Paris moment for nature’. The Global Biodiversity Framework comprises of 21 targets.

What would success look like at COP15?

In order to be able to consider COP15 a success, the RSPB (part of the international BirdLife delegation), are calling for the following:

  • Strong, high-level political attention to not only bring the gravitas needed to get the final agreement over the line, but the media attention to draw the eyes of the public to the importance of nature and COP15;
  • A genuine recognition of the scale of the biodiversity crisis which wakes us up enough to agree targets that are actually going to deliver change;
  • A real willingness to agree the plans for how to implement the new framework, including delivering the financing as well as clear monitoring and reporting mechanisms;

So, what about pesticides?

PAN UK and the Third World Network have been advising on Target 7, which addresses the issue of pollution and includes pesticide reduction, and is currently being negotiated as this blog is being posted. Pesticides are a major driver of biodiversity loss and therefore is a crucial topic to be discussed at COP15. The first draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework included a target to reduce pesticide use by two-thirds by 2030. However, this is under contention in the current negotiations.

When it comes to pesticides in the Global Biodiversity Framework, there are five areas that we would like to see updated or maintained from the first draft:

  1. A focus on reducing the amount of pesticides used globally. The simplest, most effective and least expensive way of reducing the impact of pesticides is to reduce their use. Once pesticides are released, it is simply not possible to sufficiently mitigate the effects of pesticides on the environment once they have already been released. It is also well documented that significant reductions in pesticide use can be achieved without damaging yields and can often lead to higher overall farm income. The GBF should maintain a pesticide use reduction target, as well as a toxicity-based target – it must not be one or the other.
  2. A focus on reducing the toxicity of pesticides – it is insufficient to only reduce the quantity of pesticides used. we need to go further and address toxicity. Some pesticides are far more toxic than others, and therefore solely restricting the quantities used risks incentivising a transition to more toxic products in smaller amounts. We agree with the statement in a CBD commissioned science brief, that ‘It is of utmost importance to base pesticide policies and indicators on the toxicity of pesticides applied…’. (CBD/WG2020/4/INF/2/Rev.2 page 24).
  3. The use of the word ‘risk’ has been proposed instead of ‘use’. This could lead to an unintended shift away from reduction of use and toxicity, towards a watered-down ‘risk mitigation’ approach. This must be avoided. If, however, the concept of ‘risk’ is included in the target, it will be essential to add a clarification that ‘risk’ refers to both quantity and toxicity.
  4. ‘Highly hazardous chemicals’ has been proposed to replace the term ‘Highly Hazardous Pesticides’. However, ‘Highly hazardous chemicals’ is not an internationally accepted term, and should thus be avoided. By contrast, ‘Highly Hazardous Pesticides’ are defined by the UN’s WHO and FAO and are widely recognised. Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) must be phased out due to the disproportionate harm they cause to both the environment and to human health.
  5. Finally, synthetic pesticides should be targeted – they tend to be much less specific in their action, persist for longer in the environment and do more harm to many non-target species, and are therefore considered to be much more hazardous to the environment than, for example, biopesticides.

Finally, when it comes to monitoring indicators, as discussed above Target 7 should include measures of quantity and use, toxicity (toxic load or pesticide load) and name, amount, volume/weight of HHPs in use.

Hope for a positive outcome

The talks at COP15 are due to last until 19 December. Last week, there was a protest at the talks in Montreal, as the pesticide industry association CropLife hosted an event and publicly stated that they do not support the reduction aims set out in Target 7.

Occurrences like this highlight the uphill battle that we face in securing robust pesticide reduction targets at an international level. However, despite the lack of media and political interest in COP15, observers and delegates remain hopeful that the talks will be a success. The Pesticide Collaboration will continue to raise awareness of the importance of both global and national pesticide reduction, and highlight how meaningful action on pesticides will improve human health as well as contribute to the reversal of biodiversity decline and recovery of nature.

For more information please see here.


By Amy Heley