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An Entomologist’s Guide to the Convention on Biological Diversity

A woman poses in front of a large sign in an outdoor plaza in front of a building. The sign is five letters, about eight feet tall, reading "COP15". The C is green, the O is red, the P is blue, and the 15 are cream colored. On the bottom of the sign is a smaller label that says "Montreal."

In December 2022, entomologist Emily Sandall, Ph.D., attended the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as COP15. The convention is a critical international effort to preserve Earth’s biodiversity, but insects at times take a backseat to other fauna in the negotiations, Sandall says. (Photo courtesy of Emily Sandall, Ph.D.)

By Emily L. Sandall, Ph.D.

As entomologists, how often do we think about where insects fit in the overall picture of biodiversity, conservation, and ecosystem services? Often? Or do we look at our small-in-size but abundantly present species of interest with honey-colored glasses, assuming that everyone includes and embraces them in overall biodiversity measures?

My interest in entomology sparked with the stunning diversity of insects I encountered in natural history collections, but it has taken me into a career with a focus on biodiversity science diplomacy. I am currently a 2022-2023 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow placed in the Multilateral Affairs Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, where I cover the technical aspects of a biodiversity-related portfolio of trade policies and international agreements. In December 2022, I was also fortunate enough to travel to Montreal, Canada, for COP 15, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (also known as CBD).

If you’ve ever heard of a “COP,” it was likely one of the meetings of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, which is an international agreement with a climate-oriented focus. Most recently, member countries of COP 27 of this convention met in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022 to make decisions on the world’s climate goals. Meetings of the CBD also use the COP acronym, though the CBD COP15 may not have grabbed as many headlines late last year as its climate change counterpart.

The History of the Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity is the world’s first global agreement for the preservation and conservation of biodiversity, but many of us have probably never heard of it. It could be because the United States is one of the two countries (the other is the Holy See) that are not an official party to the convention, meaning the country has not signed its name to it and is therefore not bound to the multilateral agreement. This is because, for the U.S. to become a party, two-thirds of the Senate would have to approve it. While the U.S. currently supports the objectives of the agreement, without Congressional approval to formally be a party to it, the U.S. has a more indirect role and engagement on the agreement relative to other international environmental conventions.

Another reason we may be less familiar with this convention is that insects are sometimes not explicitly recognized or emphasized in broader biodiversity-related efforts or wildlife policies. If you’ve ever read studies about the public’s perception of insects, that could be a part of it, as well. (Schoelitsz et al. 2018, Snaddon & Turner 2007, Duffus et al. 2021 can be a good place to start.) But another reason could be the relative lack of focus on invertebrates as critical and visible components of biodiversity in comparison to, say, mammals and birds. While we entomologists may be biased to think otherwise, in plenty of arenas insects are taking a backseat.

COP 15: Placing a New Framework for Biodiversity

On a white wall, artificial ivy hangs along the top and below the ivy hang numerous pieces of paper with handwritten messages of support for the mission of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Some of the notes include drawings. some are on pieces of paper cut in the shape of birds.

In December 2022, entomologist Emily Sandall, Ph.D., attended the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as COP15. The convention is a critical international effort to preserve Earth’s biodiversity, but insects at times take a backseat to other fauna in the negotiations, Sandall says. Inside the convention center, attendees could observe a message wall with words of support for biodiversity conservation. (Photo courtesy of Emily Sandall, Ph.D.)

2022 was a critical year at the Convention on Biological Diversity in that COP 15 was the space for negotiations on and adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (also referred to as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework), which set standards and goals on targets for the next 10 years. The Framework replaced the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were established in 2010 and expired at the end of 2020. Those 20 targets were goals for protecting and conserving global biodiversity, but unfortunately none of those targets were completely met by the end of the decade, according to the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook of the United Nations. Despite this outcome, there is broad agreement that ambitious goals must be set to assess, conserve, and protect natural ecosystems today and in the future.

The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework has four overarching goals and 23 targets related to the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity: 1) enhancing integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity, 2) sustainable use of biological diversity, 3) benefit sharing, and 4) finance and capacity building for implementing the framework.

The targets are specific units of the framework, including climate change impacts on biodiversity (Target 8), soil health and pollination (Target 11), and data in biodiversity decision-making (Target 21), just to name a few. Each of these targets involved multiple drafts of language and negotiations between parties to ensure that the language was something that all could agree to. Some of these negotiations would go to the middle of the night! To learn more about the elements of the framework, numerous supporting documents are available, such as those on invasive species, the monitoring framework, and capacity building.

Each day around the negotiations, plenty of other presentations, workshops, and side events took place where you could listen to speakers and panels on different topics related to the Convention. I attended the one side event directly focusing on insects, which had a focus on pollinators, titled “Pollinator protection: strengthening policies, knowledge exchange and engagement,” and was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the German Agency for International Cooperation (known as GIZ), and Naturalis. The speakers in this side event highlighted in-country projects and national goals around pollination, but the panel also discussed the importance of emphasizing pollinators in the mainstreaming of biodiversity between sectors.

I also attended a great side event on taxonomic cooperation, which is another area that ESA members may be interested in, hosted by PenSoft, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the CBD Secretariat. With so many components of the monitoring framework tied to taxonomic data in some capacity, this is an area that clearly needs more involvement and capacity building, which has changed in recent years to more of a genetics focus, the speakers noted. One report that was a highlight of this side event was the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists. This was a great way to raise awareness about the need for more experts to get involved!

How to Engage

Other resources to learn more about the policy efforts underway for biodiversity include the ESA Position Statement on Insects and Biodiversity, the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin, or the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Emily L. Sandall, Ph.D., is a 2022-2023 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow and the Systematics, Evolution, & Biodiversity Section Representative to the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter. Email:

The statements in this post are those of Emily L. Sandall, Ph.D., alone and do not reflect the ideas or position of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. government, or AAAS.

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