[Commentary] Biodiversity talks also need to develop nationally determined commitments

An elephant grazes in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

  • On September 30, when the heads of states attend the United Nations General Assembly, a UN Summit on Biodiversity is also being organised to focus attention on biodiversity conservation.
  • The international negotiations related to the Convention on Biological Diversity has reached 2020 with none one of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets having been met.
  • Balakrishna Pisupati, former chair of the National Biodiversity Authority of India and an experienced biodiversity negotiator, argues that it is time that nationally determined commitments (NDCs), need to be drawn up for biodiversity, like in the case of climate change negotiations.

The President of United Nations General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, is convening the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity on September 30, 2020. This is being held on the margins of the opening of the 75th UN General Assembly being attended by Heads of State and Government.

This event is significant not only because of the issue being discussed but also due to the timing when the fifth edition of Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5) was launched on September 15, 2020, which bemoans the fact that member states have not achieved any of the twenty Aichi biodiversity targets by the deadline of 2020. With the new Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework being negotiated for adoption in 2021, it is time for member states to reflect on what is going wrong in their strategic planning and actions to achieve the global targets since 2002.

Review of actions and impacts to achieve the targets indicate two main issues that need reflection as the world decides on the new targets. First, countries need to get serious about making commitments that are measurable, achievable and that can be reviewed periodically. Second, the need for inclusive approaches to conservation action that also considers the actions and investments by non-state actors.

This article focuses on the issue of commitments and what countries can potentially do now so that we do not end up in 2030 with yet another report that says, “Sorry, we have not achieved the targets again”.

A high-altitude shola forest in the Western Ghats. Conserving such biodiversity is needed to protect the ecosystem services in the mountains and the plains. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.
A high-altitude shola forest in the Western Ghats. Conserving such biodiversity is needed to protect the ecosystem services in the mountains and the plains. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

Commitments for biodiversity – a quick history

One of the early set of commitments to sustainably manage and use our ecosystems and biodiversity emanated from the 2001 European Summit at Gothenburg where the leaders of the European Union (EU) launched the first EU Sustainable Development Strategy that addressed the overall objective for a more responsible natural resources management “…to protect and restore habitats and natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010…”.

In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD-COP) committed themselves “…to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”.

During COP 10, held in Nagoya, Japan, parties to the CBD agreed on a set of 20 global targets, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. To realise these, a number of commitments were made by the Parties such as by the ‘Hyderabad call for Biodiversity Champions’ to promote the cause of biodiversity.

However, only India and Maldives have formally joined to become the champions with eight other partners including business organisations. This was not too encouraging, especially when parties could not muster enough formal commitments to achieve the 2020 biodiversity targets.

In Mexico, during the CBD COP 14 meeting held in 2016, about twenty Parties had submitted commitments on behalf of a group of countries or on their own behalf. These include, (a) Guatemala, presented a commitment on Aichi Target 11 on behalf of the like-minded mega-diverse countries; (b) France presented a commitment on Aichi Target 10 on behalf of several other countries and itself; (c) the Netherlands, on behalf of itself and a number of European countries, presented a commitment on pollinators and related to Aichi Targets 7 and 14; (d) Brazil presented a commitment on Aichi Targets 9 and 12; (e) Germany presented a commitment relating to its support for multiple Aichi Biodiversity Target 20; (f) Japan presented commitments including one related to its financial support for implementation of all Aichi Targets; (g) New Zealand presented a commitment on Aichi Targets 9 and 12; and (h) South Africa presented a commitment on Aichi Target 16; and (i) Peru presented a commitment on Aichi Target 13.

Read also: Ecological civilisation and the new global biodiversity framework

Lessons from climate commitments

The review of the sixth National Reports and revised National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) submitted by Parties until 2016 indicates that national action was not matching the ambitions of intent shown by the Parties through the COP decisions and commitments made. As of now, there is limited information on how countries have progressed on their commitments made during CBD COP 13.

With the process for developing the post-2020 biodiversity framework and related targets underway, through the aegis of the CBD, several stakeholders have started to discuss the need for seeking better and if possible, binding commitments from parties to CBD and other stakeholders to achieve the global biodiversity goals.

Such discussions are also based on experiences of countries that negotiated the need for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The following are three important lessons from climate commitments that are to be considered while discussing biodiversity commitments.

First, climate agenda has reached the highest of political echelons. This is important for both policy and practice support to deal with issues.

Second, communicating climate commitments has reached new heights with the common man realising their role. This is evidenced by increasing lifestyle changes that is coming in, albeit slowly.

Third, climate commitments are publicized and are subject to public scrutiny. This makes countries address their commitments more seriously.

Unlike climate change discussions and commitments, neither the Secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) nor the parties discussed the need for follow up to the commitments made for biodiversity so far.

Learning from the above, one can clearly say that commitments are necessary from a diverse set of stakeholders, with parties to CBD being a part of this. However, the role, relevance and recognition of these stakeholders have to be appropriately considered in dealing with future commitments. Party-led commitments alone are not enough.

Discussions and negotiations that are currently ongoing to develop the post-2020 biodiversity framework need to focus on commitments as seriously as they will discuss the targets and indicators. But, the ongoing pace and nature of discussions are not in line with this.

While it is agreeable that there is not enough time to formalise the commitments for biodiversity on the lines of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) like for climate change, the Open Working Group that has been mandated to develop the post-2020 framework and the related, as well as CBD COP 15, can set in motion the need for commitment discussions to be concluded by CBD COP 16 in 2022 with options for both clarity and purpose of these commitments that will form the basis for future reporting to CBD by the Parties. A possible ‘Ambition Mechanism’ can be agreed during CBD COP 15 using the following actions and timelines.

Focus Deadline Significance
Discussion on Commitments using the draft targets 2020 – 2021 The discussions can begin during the inter-sessional period up to CBD COP 15.
2020 Decision on developing formal commitments by 2021


2021 CBD COP 15 can make a recommendation for developing a commitments and related reporting framework, targeting both Parties and non-parties by 2022.
Adoption of commitments and decision on new reporting framework


2022 CBD COP 1 can make a formal decision on the commitments and related reporting framework.
Report of achievements using the commitments made between 2021-2026 2026 CBD COP 18 can discuss the progress being made on realizing the commitments, using the reporting framework agreed in 2022. This will coincide with the mid-point of contributing to both the CBD new 2030 targets and the SDGs.
2030 – Report on achievements of 2030 framework. 2030 Submission of achievements at CBD COP 20 in 2030.


Options for developing the discussion points for the Open Working Group

As parties prepare to discuss and draft the post-2020 biodiversity strategic plan and related targets, discussions can begin on developing options for commitments related to biodiversity that can be measured, followed up and are impactful from varied stakeholder groups. The following are some options for pushing forward such ideas.

  1. Request all UN agencies that are involved in actions related to conservation and impacting conservation to prepare their commitments and plans to achieve the post 2020 global biodiversity framework.
  2. Request private sector, including through the UN global compact and all relevant groups and networks such as the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Union for Ethical Biotrade (UEBT), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) as well national entities to come up with options for commitments and how they intend to link and mainstream these into national strategies (this is in fact a reverse option to current approach where the national strategies identify options for business engagement!).
  3. Request parties who made commitments for biodiversity, including those during the CBD COP 13, to provide a progress report on the progress being made and key lessons learnt.
  4. Develop an options paper for commitments, in time for discussion during COP 15 supported by a reporting framework.
  5. Confirm the intent to formalise commitments during the UNGA session on September 30, 2020 during the UN Biodiversity Summit.
  6. Decide on future commitments that are measurable and subject to periodic review during CBD COP 15, including during the high level segment.
The ecosystem services from forests, such as providing water even in summer is usually forgotten. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

Balakrishna Pisupati is chairperson, FLEDGE, former chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India, and has spent many years working on biodiversity policy at the UNEP and the IUCN.

Banner image: An elephant grazes in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

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