Saving life on Earth: Can COP15 deliver?

As leaders come together to tackle biodiversity loss, what are their aims – and will it work?

Blue whale in the Indian Ocean off Trinconmalee, Sri Lanka.

Blue whale in the Indian Ocean off Trinconmalee, Sri Lanka. /Paul Goldstein /Cover Images

Blue whale in the Indian Ocean off Trinconmalee, Sri Lanka. /Paul Goldstein /Cover Images

A young great crested tern, Sri Lanka.

A young great crested tern, Sri Lanka. /Lalith Ekanayake

Plastic bottles and other garbage in Potpecko lake, Serbia.

Plastic bottles and other garbage in Potpecko lake, Serbia. /Darko Vojinovic

State forestry conservation crews gather up oil-soaked straw on a beach in Santa Barbara, California 1969.

California, 1969: State forestry conservation crews gather up oil-soaked straw on a beach in Santa Barbara. /Wally Fong/AP

Workers rake up crude oil from Newport Beach, California after a ruptured pipeline spilled over 3000 barrels, 2021.

California, 2021: Workers rake up crude oil from Newport Beach after a ruptured pipeline spilled over 3000 barrels. /David Swanson/Reuters

A young great crested tern, Sri Lanka.

A young great crested tern, Sri Lanka. /Lalith Ekanayake

Plastic bottles and other garbage in Potpecko lake, Serbia.

Plastic bottles and other garbage in Potpecko lake, Serbia. Credit/ Darko Vojinovic

State forestry conservation crews gather up oil-soaked straw on a beach in Santa Barbara, California 1969.

California, 1969: State forestry conservation crews gather up oil-soaked straw on a beach in Santa Barbara. /Wally Fong/AP

Workers rake up crude oil from Newport Beach, California after a ruptured pipeline spilled over 3000 barrels, 2021.

California, 2021: Workers rake up crude oil from Newport Beach after a ruptured pipeline spilled over 3000 barrels. /David Swanson/Reuters

While COVID-19 brought much of the world grinding to a halt, it sadly didn't do much to slow the existential threat to many of our planet's species – around a quarter of which are under threat of extinction.

Originally due to take place September 2020, the COP 15 conference was pushed back to May 2021 and then again to October – online, with face-to-face meetings due in Kunming, China, in April 2022.

The delays echo the frustrations campaigners and scientists have endured in 50 years of environmental discussions.

In 2020, the UN reported that world leaders had failed to meet a single biodiversity target agreed 10 years previously in Aichi, with scientists claiming that humans are causing the sixth mass extinction event in the history of planet Earth.

Kangaroos in biodiverse woodlands in Queensland, Australia are threatened by the expanding seam gas extraction industry.

Kangaroos in biodiverse Queensland, Australia are threatened by expanding gas extraction industry. /Auscape/UIG via Getty Images

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra 2020.

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra 2020. /Rick Rycroft/AP

A bachelor desert elephant bull roams through dry river valleys along Namibia's Skeleton Coast.

A bachelor desert elephant bull roams through dry river valleys along Namibia's Skeleton Coast. /Jami Tarris/CFP

Kangaroos in biodiverse woodlands in Queensland, Australia are threatened by the expanding seam gas extraction industry.

Kangaroos in biodiverse Queensland, Australia are threatened by expanding gas extraction industry. /Auscape/UIG via Getty Images

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra 2020.

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra 2020. /Rick Rycroft/AP

A bachelor desert elephant bull roams through dry river valleys along Namibia's Skeleton Coast.

A bachelor desert elephant bull roams through dry river valleys along Namibia's Skeleton Coast. Credit: Jami Tarris

However, with accelerating climate chaos, increased pressure from concern groups and ever-growing public interest, there is hope that COP15 could mark the start of genuine progress.

The theme for COP15 is "Ecological Civilization" – a concept promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping for balanced and sustainable development that features the harmonious coexistence of man and nature.

As the stakeholders finally meet, if only virtually at first, what can they do to curb a mass extinction event? And are we running out of time?