UN biodiversity meeting in China under review following coronavirus outbreak

UN agencies and the Chinese government are holding consultations to decide whether next month’s meeting can go ahead as planned

Kunming is set to host critical UN biodiversity talks in October 2020 (Pic: Flickr/Patrick Giblin)


A UN meeting to advance efforts to protect the world’s biodiversity due to take place in China next month could be relocated  following the coronavirus outbreak. 

The meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is planned to take place in the southern city of Kunming, in the Yunnan province, from 24-29 February. Hundreds of biodiversity experts and policy-makers from across the world are due to attend.

The event is part of a series of preparatory meetings for a critical biodiversity summit also taking place in Kunming in October, when countries are due to agree a new global framework to protect wildlife and plants from threats including climate change, loss of habitat and pollution.

A spokesman for the CBD told Climate Home News the secretariat was “reviewing the situation in consultation” with the Chinese government, the World Health Organisation, as well as the co-chairs and presidency team leading the conference, following the outbreak of the virus.

Nairobi, Rome, Geneva, Vienna and Montreal – where the CBD is headquartered – have been mentioned as possible alternative venues, delegation sources have told CHN.

On Wednesday, the February meeting still appeared as “confirmed” on the CBD’s website. A pre-meeting consultation planned to start on 20 February also remained confirmed.

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China’s National Health Commission said the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak had risen to 132. Nearly 6,000 cases have been confirmed in China. At least one case of coronavirus has been reported in Kunming, according to local media reports.

At the end of Tuesday, the WHO said cases had been confirmed in at least 14 countries.

Zhong Nanshan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, anticipated the epidemic to reach its peak in the next 10 days.

Li Shuo, of Greenpeace China, told CHN that if the meeting would need to take place at the same dates as initially planned if it was  relocated, citing a “tight timetable” until the CBD summit on 15-28 October, also known as Cop15.

“To change the dates will definitely have an impact on participation,” Shuo added, warning the meeting had been scheduled far in advance.

There is recent precedent for relocating UN meetings at short notice.

Last year, the UN climate talks, or Cop25, had to be relocated from Chile to Madrid, Spain, following social unrest that gripped the South American country. Spain successfully held the meeting at the same dates in December as originally planned with less than a month’s notice.

Li Lin, Director of Global Advocacy and Policy, WWF-International, told CHN: “China is playing, and will continue to play, a critical role in securing strong, science-based global commitments on nature this year.”

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The logistics for the Kunming February meeting also appear compromised.

A growing number of countries have warned against all non-essential travel to mainland China, including the US, the UK, Germany and France.

The WHO has not issued travel restrictions to China but called for the implementation of measures that would “limit the risk of exportation or importation of the disease…without unnecessary restrictions of international traffic”.

A growing number of airlines have cancelled flights to China. On Wednesday, for instance, British Airways announced having suspended all flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai until 31st January while the company “assesses the situation”.

Kunming airport is the sixth busiest in China and handled more than 47 million passengers in 2018, according to its website. Kunming is located 1,560 kilometres away from the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, where the virus originated.

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