Governments and policymakers are meeting in Montreal for COP15 at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). These international negotiations represent a once-in-a-decade opportunity to deliver an ambitious global agreement for nature that can halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

Although there has been chatter in recent weeks that multiple world leaders would be open to attending, neither Canada as host nor China as the COP15 presidency has extended invitations. This must change — and quickly. We need world leaders at this summit to drive the bold ambition necessary to protect biodiversity.

The CBD talks are not going well. There is no consensus around the goals we need, the money on the table and, importantly, the timeline for when countries turn a global agreement into national action. For one of the most pressing global issues of our time, why wouldn’t we escalate this all the way to the top? We know when leaders turn up, negotiators get serious and there is more scrutiny over the deal. We wouldn’t have gotten so far on climate without the deliberate choice to involve world leaders.

COP15 is supposed to be the Paris Agreement for nature, but right now we stand on the brink of it being a Copenhagen crash. Despite having two extra years to prepare themselves, countries are not heeding the warnings of scientists, economists and regulators.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates more than a million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction. Scientists have been warning us for decades that we are crashing our own life-support system, destroying global biodiversity and the systems that nature provides. What this ultimately leads to is immense suffering, which I have personally witnessed.

Wajir County in the northeastern part of my country, Kenya, is experiencing a historic drought, worsened by climate change. When I visited communities in Wajir earlier this year, I was overwhelmed by the shocking reality of the interconnectedness of nature, climate and the food crisis.

I drove for hours down dusty roads, lined left and right with the shrivelled carcasses of decimated local wildlife populations. I held in my arms livestock dying of hunger. I listened to the stories of hungry and desperate people who are grief stricken, losing all hope for their future. This is what it looks like when natural ecosystems are pushed beyond their breaking point, and too often, it is the poor and the most vulnerable who are hardest hit.

We need urgent and bold political leadership to protect our planet. That’s why architects of the Paris Agreement released a statement recently calling for world leaders to be invited and attend COP15. Their statement noted, “There is no pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5C without action on protecting and restoring Nature.”

Former world leaders also issued a joint statement, noting: “There are serious concerns about the capacity of officials to find common ground without a clear indication from the highest level that it is a priority. Having government leaders there is essential to elevate this crisis to the level it deserves with officials, the media, the public and importantly to send a clear signal to investors and shareholders that the world is united in an ambition to end the devastating business as usual.”

COP15 is supposed to be the Paris Agreement for nature, but right now we stand on the brink of it being a Copenhagen crash, writes @lizwathuti of @GGI_Kenya. #COP15 #ClimateCrisis #Biodiversity

What more will it take for Canada and China to listen?

We have a shared moral responsibility to ensure that this amazing planet, which is our common home, remains safe and habitable for the present, and for future generations.

I write to you as one young person among a global movement of millions who believe that we can and must find our way out of the planetary crisis. We can have a future with thriving biodiversity, a stable climate, clean air, clean water and food security for all. But we need international co-operation and solidarity to get there.

We need courage and urgent action from world leaders. Lives are at risk, and we are running out of time. To leaders in Ottawa and around the world, I urge you: don’t let us down.

Elizabeth Wathuti is a passionate environmentalist and climate activist from Kenya who made a mark at the COP26 opening ceremony in Glasgow, asking world leaders to "open your hearts." She is the founder of Green Generation Initiative (GGI) and the head of campaigns and co-ordinator of Daima Coalition for the Protection of Urban Green Spaces at the Wangari Maathai Foundation. In September 2022, she was selected to be on this year’s TIME100 NEXT list as one of the most influential people of her generation.

Keep reading