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The World Made a Biodiversity Pact, But We Aren’t Part of It

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Senate’s reluctance to ratify puts the US in a weird position.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Only two countries in the world have not joined the UN Convention on Biological Diversity: the Vatican and the US. Few have missed the Holy See, but the US not joining the CBD 30 years ago has been described as the “major holdout” among countries looking to support the convention’s goals.

In Montreal, where negotiations for this decade’s UN biodiversity targets are entering their frantic final stages, the absence of the US political machine is noticeable, changing the power dynamics in talks between the remaining 196 countries.

The EU is the main player from the global north and, as a result, weathers much of the criticism, accusations of hypocrisy and demands for money that the US is accustomed to getting in climate talks.

China holds the presidency of Cop15, the first time it has led on a major UN environment deal. A month ago, at Cop27, the US climate envoy, John Kerry, striding around the blue zone in Sharm El-Sheikh was ever-present before he caught Covid-19, and his face-offs with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, were always noteworthy. The US pavilion was a focal point for announcements, and the country’s scientists, campaigners and policymakers were important voices on the climate. All that is missing in Canada.

Scientists and environmentalists have long urged the US to join the biodiversity convention, given the country’s extensive involvement in designing the UN treaty and natural landscapes that include the archipelago of Hawaii, the temperate rainforests of Alaska, and the coral reefs and swamps of Florida, whose protection inspires bipartisan pride.

Bill Clinton signed the CBD on the US’s behalf in 1993, but the Senate refused to ratify it. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot has criticized the US for not being a party to the convention, saying it provides other countries with a permanent excuse to participate in name only. But it is not expected to join any time soon, as international treaties need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

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