The COP15 UN conference in Montreal will be a massive moment for nature

One of the most important events for life on Earth, ever, is about to begin. This week and next, delegates from more than 190 countries will come together in Montreal, Canada, for a conference known as COP15, or the UN Biodiversity Conference, to hash out a plan to halt the decline of ecosystems, wildlife, and the life-supporting services they provide.

If the term “COP” sounds familiar, that’s because there was another UN conference last month called COP27. But these two events are very different. COP27 was about climate change — a conference of countries “party” to the UN’s major climate pact. COP15 will bring together nations party to another major treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity.

I know this is a lot of jargon, but these agreements are worth knowing about. They’re arguably the most important tools the world has to protect the planet and, in the case of the biodiversity conference, underappreciated. Many experts call COP15 the last chance to reverse the decline of nature.

“Our planet is in crisis,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said in a press conference earlier this month. More than a million species are threatened with extinction, she said, and populations of most major animal groups have declined by an average of 69 percent. “Clearly, the world is crying out for change,” she said.

During COP15, which starts Wednesday, negotiators are expected to finalize and sign a document called the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. You can think of it as the Paris Agreement but for biodiversity — a strategy with nearly two dozen measurable targets designed to conserve ecosystems and the benefits they provide, such as food and plant-derived medicines.

One of the splashiest and most contested targets is a…

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