Opportunity, Connection and Hope: A COP 15 Reflection
By Madison Martinez, Communications and Administrative Coordinator
January 19, 2023
If I had to describe the UN Biodiversity Conference (or CBD COP15) in one word, I would say it was overwhelming.
The task, the issues at stake, the information, and the physical environment of CBD COP15 were all overwhelming. Walking through downtown Montreal through the line-ups and crowds of people to enter the convention centre, I was struck immediately by the busyness and urgency that enveloped the space. Nearly 20 000 people were in attendance with their varied interests and a two-week timeline. In that moment, it would have been so easy to be overcome by worry and anxiety or even to surrender to skepticism and defeat. But it soon became clear that CBD COP15 presented unique opportunities for all the stakeholders involved. For me, the opportunities to connect, to share knowledge and passion, and to participate in catalyzing and guiding meaningful action soon came to the forefront of my mind.
Prior to coming to CBD COP15, my only experience with global environmental governance was from an academic standpoint. Within my academic career, I spent a significant amount of time examining and critiquing environmental agreements. One major concern for me was that CBD COP15 would amount to lofty and ambiguous ideas rather than concrete action plans. Unsurprisingly, I think I came into this experience unsure about the lasting impacts these discussions and negotiations would have on the natural world. However, I resolved to be hopeful and was grateful for whatever experience was to come.
As the COVID-19 pandemic delayed CBD COP15 negotiations by two years, there was a lot of build up to the creation and negotiation of a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). At the beginning of negotiations, the draft GBF was described as a mess, riddled with over 1000 square brackets that needed to be dealt with within the 2 weeks of this conference. As square brackets refer to items which have yet to be agreed upon, it was clear that there was a lot to be done in order to finalize the GBF. Getting it done and creating an effective framework were two separate and complicated tasks, so whether both could be achieved weighed on me.
While at CBD COP15, I had the pleasure of meeting and working with colleagues from A Rocha around the world including A Rocha Canada, A Rocha Peru, A Rocha India and A Rocha Ghana. Although I was only participating at CBD COP15 from December 7 – December 12, these short 5 days were packed with enriching experiences. The schedule was busy, especially as A Rocha International, under whom we were participating, hosted and participated in several side events like presentations, panel discussion as well as interactive activities about environmental education. Within these events, I was introduced to a number of biodiversity conservation issues and initiatives from around the world that also had lessons at the community-level and individual-level. Many different speakers at various events I attended spoke of the power knowledge and experiential learning played in catalyzing environmental action. For instance, at a panel discussion called “Holistic approaches for raising awareness and changing behaviour,” Sarah French from A Rocha International and fellow panelists told stories of how getting people involved in nature experiences gave people, of all ages, the opportunity and tools to partake in environmental action. They spoke of the opportunity created through connecting people and communities with the natural world.
A running theme in many of the events I attended was the significance and opportunities environmental education had, within and beyond CBD COP15. Whether at a high-level of creating systems for knowledge sharing about specific species or conservation methods or emphasizing community and individuals connection to nature, environmental education was shown as significantly linked to biodiversity conservation. In my work with A Rocha Ontario, environmental education was a priority for many of the reasons I observed at CBD COP15, so it was incredibly affirming and inspiring to hear this discussion on such an important stage and to connect with people and groups around this.
As my time at CBD COP15 went on, I was able to find pockets of stillness, peace and joy within the busy environment around me through the connections I was making at events and in conversations with fellow attendees. In those pockets, I felt God’s presence. Although I was often indoors in large, crowded rooms with few windows, the connection I felt to God and nature was comparable to that which I feel walking in the forest. His presence opened my eyes to all the things accomplished already at CBD COP15, like sharing knowledge and making connections, even while negotiations were still underway. These important discussions and connections were happening throughout the building, and the impact of them went well beyond the agreements being drafted nearby. This empowered a deeper sense of hope for the GBF.
Ultimately, CBD COP15 concluded with the successful adoption of the Post 2020 GBF which contained goals and targets that inspire hope. While I was already home by the time this had happened, I did feel incredibly grateful to have been a part of the process. For more information about the GBF, please read A Rocha Canada’s press release. Echoing A Rocha, I too am cautiously hopeful. That being said, there’s a lot of work ahead and improvements that can be made within environmental governance. For instance, various protests at CBD COP15 highlighted the need to listen to and better include vulnerable communities, particularly Indigenous Peoples. I pray in hope for the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework for the health of people and places and for the continued and expanded care for all of creation moving forward.
CBD COP15 was overwhelming for a variety of reasons, but reflecting back on it, what stands out the most is the overwhelming sense of opportunity. This sense of opportunity, to make a change, to connect with people and creation, to find and inspire hope. In the face of environmental threats and degradation, opportunity is such an important thing. To feel empowered by opportunity is to allow God’s love and wisdom to work through you. While more work needs to be done, I pray that the experience of CBD COP15 touches hearts, opens eyes to opportunities ahead, and renews hope for a flourishing world.
Photos by Madison Martinez