COP-15: The Montreal Biodiversity Conference — What it’s like “in the room.”

I remember my first United Nations Climate meetings in 2002 (Johannesburg) and 2005 (Montreal). New to the climate/environment file, I was overwhelmed and totally out of my league. That said, I learned, fast, so much so that these early experiences launched an entirely new ministry and justice-based activity which continues to the present day.

I was delighted to receive the notes below from Michele Rattray Huish, a parishioner at Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral. In addition to serving on the Diocesan Stewardship of the Environment Committee she recently retired as Chief, Financial Resources Management Service at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the end of 2017 almost exactly 5 years ago, after 31 years with the UN, 19 of them with the CBD. So she was delighted to attend this COP-15 “from the other side” as a member of a faith community NGO group.

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15 to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international meeting bringing together governments from around the world. Participants will hopefully set out new goals and develop an action plan for nature over the next decade. The conference is being held in Montréal, Quebec, the seat of the UN CBD Secretariat, from December 7 – 19, 2022.

Now, in her own words:

Attending COP-15 is an overwhelming experience. So many people from every part of the world. So much security and bureaucracy to get through before even reaching the “inner circle”. Imagine needing to do a Covid test every morning when you want to enter the premises. And yet, it is all so organized and smooth. The police are friendly and smiling at the gates, the UN Security staff – not so much. More eagle eyed and stern.

Once you finally penetrate the safety and security outskirts – what do you find? Well, there is a lot going on. Screens all over the place with vital information about meeting times and meeting room numbers – changes of venues and cancellations, postponements and room changes – not unlike a busy airport to be honest. There are people chatting and walking, sitting and chatting, buying food from the many outlets, doing one-on-one live interviews, or up on a stage doing live presentations.

Everywhere there is colour. Posters and electronic billboards “advertising” countries, cities, organizations, animals, plants, side-events, press conferences… every and anything that can be displayed – and above it all, the low background buzz of people talking. All this before we even get to the Conference Rooms upstairs where the hard negotiations are on-going.

Having worked with the CBD for many years, I at least knew how to navigate the site (which is huge by the way – I walked more than 11,000 steps on my first day and I was only there for a few hours!). I went looking for the Faith-based Kiosk and before finding it ran into the sign to the Prayer Room – so took a side trip to check it out. It was empty at that hour of the morning – a large room with cushioned seating. I said a short prayer for the day’s negotiations and went off to find the allocated Faith-based space.

It is situated on the 2nd floor in a huge space called Place Quebec which houses hundreds of kiosks and stages and rooms for the use of non-government people like me. The Government people are found mostly in the various Conference Rooms negotiating – or huddled in small groups plotting strategy or lobbying others, or sitting at the ample seating spaces available in the Palais frantically typing on their laptops.

The NGO space was more relaxed. Lots going on – but not as frantic – the only rush observed was when one group making a presentation had to wrap up for another group to take the stage.

The Faith-based kiosk was located in the general space housing Business and Finance, Women, Youth, NGOs, United Nations, Academia and Research lPLCs (Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities). There are discrete sitting areas for people and a stage and a display counter with storage space beneath for coats, bags…

I met Caroline from the Roman Catholic Church in Nairobi Kenya there, and Gopal – the Coordinator of Faith events at the COP. I also met Amy of the St. Columban Society who added me to the Global “Faith at COP-15” WhatsApp Group – which has been a blessing as it gives heads-ups about what’s going on when in Side-Events, as well as summaries of what’s happening in the Negotiations.

So far I have attended a couple of Side Events – one on Youth, Gender and Biodiversity (Estevan from Colombia – on including men within the Gender dynamic in Colombia, and Esther from Kenya talking about her efforts to include youth in policy issues – making it less opaque for them), as well as yesterday’s presentation in the Faith-based space presented by Kamran (Bafu Trust) on the Eco Village in Tanzania. This is a children’s (girls) eco-village for orphans and vulnerable children where they grow up on an eco-farm learning from an early age how to live ecologically sustainably. The teaching is linked to the Islamic faith and the hope is that the adults produced from this experience will be able to make a difference in how decisions are made going forward – as it is recognized that for adults it is often too late for them to change… Short presentations were also given by Inez from Global 1 on Gender Equality and Discrimination as well as Dr. Aditi Mishal who spoke about the Govadham Eco Village in India.

Enjoy the images throughout this article. The conference  isn’t over yet. The work continues. Please join me in hope, and do pray.

Michele, Anglican Diocese of Montreal, Canada

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