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At Montreal’s COP-15 patience is ultimately rewarded

Attending COP-15 was an overwhelming experience; with people from all over the world, extensive security and bureaucracy, electronic billboards and screens flashing information, mandatory daily covid tests. And yet, it was all so organized and smooth, with information kept up-to-date with monitors that showed vital information about meeting times and room numbers and last minute changes – not unlike a busy airport.

When I arrived on the first day, (Dec 7th)I learned that the Faith-based area was situated on the 2nd floor in a huge space called Place Quebec which housed hundreds of kiosks and stages and rooms for the use of non-government people like me. Having worked with the CBD for many years, I was grateful that I knew how to navigate the site, yet, even so, it took a while to find the Faith-based Kiosk. While searching I spotted the sign for the Prayer Room, so I took a moment – feeling grateful for the quiet – and said a short prayer for the day’s negotiations.

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).
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 was a blessing as it provided information about side-events, as well as summaries of what was happening in the negotiations.

I was fortunate to attend a side-event on Youth, Gender and Biodiversity, where Estevan spoke about including men within the gender dynamic in Colombia, and Esther from Kenya talked about her efforts to include youth in policy issues – making it less opaque for them.

I also attended the presentation by Kamran (Bafu Trust) on the Eco Village in Tanzania; an eco-village for orphans and vulnerable children where they learn from an early age how to live ecologically and sustainably. The teaching is linked to the Islamic faith and the hope is that when they grow up they will make a difference in how decisions are made – as it is recognized that for adults it is often too late to change.

The following day, with negative Covid test in hand, I returned to the 2nd floor where I finally met up with the three other members of the delegation from the Anglican Diocese of Montreal that I had not yet met in person – from the United Church of Canada – Rev. Wendy Evans and Mercy Awori, and from Westmount Park United Church -Rev. Neil Whitehouse.

Neil, Wendy and I saw a presentation from the High Level Event – on Financing the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). As there were no seats left, we had to form part of the standing crowd. A slick brochure was available – “10PP – Political Vision – The 10 Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity” – which gave a fairly positive note on how countries are committed to funding biodiversity.

Quickly moving on we visited the Canada Pavilion where we were treated to little maple cones. While there we were fortunate to find ourselves practically rubbing shoulders with the Minister of the Environment – Stephen Guilbeault, who was rushing past (body guard in tow) to attend a press conference. Wendy hurried after them and tried to get into the room – but the security was having none of it. No press badge, no entry!

Heading back toward the Faith-based kiosk, we encountered Elizabeth Mrema – the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. She was giving a press conference – this one was out in the open – but again, we were politely asked to move along – as we were blocking the passage!

By far the most interesting press conference was the last one we attended on Billionaires and Biodiversity, where we heard passionate testimony from the following organizations – Rainforest Action Network (Australia); Friends of the Earth International (Costa Rica); Global Forest Coalition (Netherlands/Paraguay); Panganga Pungowlyl – indigenous Environment Network (US) – about how billionaires are destroying the planet with their money – funding capitalist ventures of extraction and destruction.

As Neil commented later – you couldn’t have gotten a more diametrically opposite take on how things were going than to contrast the first and the last presentations we had attended that day!

At around 8pm on the final day I headed up to the Plenary room on the 5th floor to catch the closing – which had been scheduled for 6pm. (I knew there was little chance it would start on time!) The room was full of people – chatting, eating, writing, and journalists setting up cameras everywhere. Yet, the podium was empty. I quickly found the Faith-based assigned seating, where I encountered Grove Harris of The Temple of Understanding, and Samuel Chiu of A ROCHA – Environmental Stewardship. They were chatting away so I parked myself beside them at the table.
We were later joined by four more people – Amy, Gopal, Wesley and Alex. Together with Grove and Samuel we formed quite a large delegation!

Samuel told me about the work his Christian organization was doing – engaging in scientific research, environmental education, and sustainable agriculture. When I told him about our own Stewardship of the Environment Committee’s involvement in the Net Zero Project for Churches, I was delighted to hear that he already knew about the program.

It was past 10:30 when I spotted David – the COP Secretary and former colleague. We quickly ambushed him to see if he could give us an idea as to the starting time. He hemmed and hawed and eventually said that we should be underway before midnight. Later, when I saw the CBD Executive Secretary’s Assistant (a good friend) near the podium and told her we had been told ‘before midnight’ for a starting time – she just rolled her eyes. I asked her, “so when”? Her answer was – “You know you can watch it live on-line.”.

I got the picture and decided that it was time to go home. I said goodnight to the group and headed downstairs, which was deserted. The music had stopped and no one was around – except for the one still-open food station that had a line around the block…hungry delegates getting fueled up for the long night ahead.

I got home before midnight and jumped onto my computer to follow the Plenary online. I think I fell asleep at around 1:45am- it still hadn’t started. I woke up at around 6am and was finally able to watch. It was quite the show – but we finally got there – the Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted to great applause a little past 3:30am on Monday 19 December 2022! I was happy to learn that the rest of the Faith-based gang hung in there until the sweet end – forming a part of the general acclaim in the room.

At COP15, nations adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework agreeing, by 2030, to conserve and manage at least 30 percent of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans. With emphasis on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services.

Michele Rattray-Huish
People’s Warden/ Ecological and Social Justice Action Group (ESJAG)
Christ Church Cathedral

Article originally appears in the March 2023 issue of the Anglican Montreal newspaper


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