Covid-19 has upended the schedules for major gatherings relating to the environment. Two of the world’s most important meetings have been postponed, with new dates still to be agreed – the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD15), originally scheduled for October, and the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) originally scheduled for November.
China was to host for CBD15 in Kunming, Yunnan province, and Britain, COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Despite the delay, these gatherings remain important politically to the two countries because they both want to play global leadership roles.
Indeed, these two conferences were important enough for Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to have had two direct conversations in February and March, where they agreed to work closely together. They acknowledged biodiversity and climate change should be addressed in tandem, amid discussions about Covid-19.
China and Britain, as host countries, have a responsibility to ensure the conferences run smoothly and have positive outcomes. They need to work closely with the UN and the governments of other countries that will be hosting several rescheduled pre-conference meetings and negotiations, as the two conventions are complex multilateral treaties.
Much of the trade and consumption of wildlife is already illegal around the world. Usually, wildlife is sold in wet markets where all kinds of other food are sold. These markets are busy places, packed with people and animals both alive and dead, such as chickens, pigs, snakes, dogs, civets, birds and bats, making it easier for animal viruses to jump to humans.
And China is not the only transgressor. Similar markets are dotted around Southeast Asia, and the illegal trade is dominated by crime syndicates around the world. What better time than now for global leaders to cooperate via Interpol to root out these crimes, as well as for Asian governments to sustain public education to deter wildlife consumption.
In general, reducing the risk arising from wet markets, even where no wildlife is sold, takes public education and political determination. Just look at the resistance in Hong Kong.
Yet, the region also has the highest rate of deforestation, followed by South America and Africa. Moreover, the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide is compromised when forests are reduced, which has a negative impact on global warming.
Christine Loh, a former undersecretary for the environment, is an adjunct professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology