Nations adopt Global Biodiversity Framework amid concerns over watered-down targets

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  • After multiple delays due to COVID-19, nearly 200 countries at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal sealed a landmark deal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
  • The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), with four goals and 23 action-oriented targets, comes after two weeks of intense negotiations at COP15, in Montreal, Canada. It replaces the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010.
  • Among the 2030 goals, countries pledged to protect at least 30 percent of terrestrial and marine areas, recognising indigenous and traditional territories.
  • Concerns have been raised about the ambitions of the framework with many criticising the agreement for vague, watered-down targets, many of which are not quantitative.

After marathon negotiations and a clutch of protests, including a “die-in” by global youth and a walk-out by developing countries over a funding stalemate, nearly 200 nations struck a historic deal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by the end of the decade, at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), with four goals and 23 action-oriented targets, was adopted on December 19 at the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties on the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) or COP15, chaired by China and hosted by Canada from December 7 to December 19.

The agreement preserves the headline goal to “ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 percent of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed,” while recognising “indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable.”

Currently, 17% and 10% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas, respectively, are under protection.

Importantly, the agreement includes a commitment to mobilise at least $200 billion per year by 2030 in financial flows from “all sources” including the public and private sectors, to “progressively” close the biodiversity finance gap of $700 billion per year and aligning financial flows with the Framework and the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.

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COP15 was chaired by China and hosted by Canada. Photo by UN Biodiversity/Flickr.

The next steps will be to draft the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) reflecting the GBF targets for country-led implementation of the GBF.

“We expect to finalise the NBSAP in the next eight to ten months,” Justin Mohan, Secretary, National Biodiversity Authority, India, told Mongabay-India following the adoption of the GBF.

The states (in India) will also have to align their State Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans with the national targets.

“It will be very interesting to see how the results from this framework will be influencing other processes. We have benefitted a lot from decisions taken by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Environment Assembly and World Trade Organization. It is our turn to see how we can influence them and eventually there will be a convergence between the various instruments,” said Basile van Havre, co-chair of the Open-Ended Working Group on the GBF, at CBD, at a press briefing following the adoption.

The GBF text comes as part of a package including decisions on a monitoring framework, Digital Sequence Information on genetic resources (DSI), resource mobilisation, mechanisms for planning, monitoring, reporting, and review, and capacity-building and development, and technical and scientific cooperation.

Read more: IPCC report connects the dots on climate change, biodiversity and human society

Hits and misses

While the COP15 agreement reflects successes in paving the way for resource mobilisation and monitoring frameworks, it has drawn criticism for its watered-down ambitions and weak language, and stagnation in critical areas such as reducing extinction of plants and animals, protection of intact ecosystems, and tackling unsustainable production and consumption.

“For example, it lacks a numerical target to reduce the unsustainable footprint of production and consumption. This is disappointing and will require governments to take action at the national level,” said Lin Li, senior director of global policy and advocacy at WWF International.

Guido Broekhoven, global head of policy research & development at WWF International dubbed the agreement “unfortunate,” noting that the reference to overshooting planetary boundaries “was removed at the last minute from the text.”

“It remains vague on the outcomes we need to achieve by 2030 — with a focus on 2050 deadlines for key conservation goals on ecosystems and species. That will be far too late for us to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and address related challenges such as climate change,” said Alfred DeGemmis, associate director of international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In a landmark report in 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent science and policy group, estimated that one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. The report identified the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution, and invasive alien species.

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COP15 agreements have come under fire for their weak language, and stagnation in critical areas such as reducing the extinction of plants and animals, protecting intact ecosystems, and tackling unsustainable production and consumption. Photo by UN Biodiversity/Flickr.

Argentine ecologist Sandra Diaz, co-chair of the 2019 IPBES report, one of the crucial scientific assessments that underpins the science-based targets of the framework, commended the effort to adopt the framework, especially “after so many days of negotiations that did not look particularly promising,” but lamented the lack of more ambition throughout the framework.

She acknowledged the “very good progress” in areas such as the space given in the final document to Indigenous peoples and local communities and gender equality.

“The major facets of biodiversity — species, ecosystems, genetic diversity, nature’s contributions to people — have retained their identity, and each has aspirations. I am glad that the genetic diversity of domesticated species, so crucial for food sovereignty and the food security of the whole of humanity, has survived in the text.”

“But unfortunately, not all of these targets have quantitative targets,” Diaz said. “More quantitative commitments, both in targets and in financial investment [are needed]. There are specific targets for the drivers of nature’s decline, but I think that the language of some of them, particularly those related with pesticides, the control of the business sector and the change in consumption patterns, have been seriously watered down.”

“It remains to be seen whether these targets indeed bring about the transformative change we were all hoping for, and which is essential for a better future for all life on Earth,” Diaz told Mongabay-India.

The GBF replaces the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which included the Aichi Targets, which was adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 — none of which, according to a 2020 CBD report were fully met, largely due to failure to monitor and report the implementation of goals.

After multiple postponements due to COVID-19, the Montreal summit, pegged as the “last chance” to agree to a deal to protect nature, began with sticking points on measurable targets and implementation, DSI, and resource mobilisation — all of which almost stalled talks midway.

On Sunday morning, December 18th, the penultimate day of the meeting — while millions around the world watched the football World Cup — China, released the new draft of the Framework that had been shaped over the last two weeks of talks. That document was adopted by 196 Parties in the early hours of Monday, December 19, to applause and cheers following a final leg of consultations that stretched past midnight.

The deal was sealed despite objections by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to the world’s second-biggest rainforest, primarily over financing concerns. The United States is the only major world nation not a party to the agreement.

Read more: IPBES scientist Sandra Diaz on the need for bold targets to tackle biodiversity loss

30 by 30 and IPLCS

While Indigenous and local communities campaigned heavily in the last two years to create strong language guaranteeing the recognition and protection of their lands and rights in the targets, many NGOs also saw 30 by 30 as a lifeline helping species struggling amid the biodiversity crisis.

“By including a target to protect and conserve at least 30% of the world’s lands and oceans, the draft text makes the largest commitment to ocean and land conservation in history,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature. “Conservation on this scale gives nature a chance. If approved, the outlook for leopards, butterflies, sea turtles, forests and people will markedly improve.”

According to spatial land-use scenarios, 1.3 million sq km (321 million acres) of land requiring conservation attention is projected to be lost to intensive human land use change by 2030. Indigenous advocates — often citing the latest scientific studies on their effective and necessary conservation stewardship of forests and biodiversity — fear losing their traditional lands not only to deforestation and development, but also to newly created protected and conserved areas.

Image shows a forest canopy
One of the key discussions of COP15 has been the 30 by 30 goal, a pledge to protect 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. Photo by PJeganathan/Wikimedia Commons.

At the 11th hour, the recognition of the land and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities was included in the 30 by 30 target in an adequate way that Indigenous delegates part of the Indigenous caucus (the IIFB) say could correct the legacy of neglectful conservation practices perpetrated on Indigenous peoples.

Although the text did not include the exact wording the IIFB proposed, it opens up the possibility of a new pathway for Indigenous and traditional territories to be taken into consideration in achieving conservation targets, beyond protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), says Jennifer-Tauli Corpuz, a member of the IIFB.

The explicit inclusion of OECMs in the target as a conservation measure, and not just protected areas, also creates the opportunity to move away from “fortress conservation” that often excludes local and Indigenous communities from conserving lands.

However, contentious issues remain for some Indigenous traditional groups, especially those from countries with weak rights infrastructure, who felt the agreement language wasn’t strong enough. Representing about 10,000 Indigenous traditional nations from seven different socio-cultural contexts, the IIFB said it did its best to implement general language that covered all Indigenous communities.

Read more: Removing forest dwellers from areas to protect biodiversity costs more than involving them

Biodiversity fund

The final document brought some succor to developing countries, whose key demand was to set up an international biodiversity fund, a demand that got more teeth with the establishment of a “loss and damage” fund at the Egypt climate talks (COP27). On the issue of resource mobilisation, the COP15 agreement recognises the urgency to establish a “dedicated and accessible” Global Biodiversity Fund in 2023, to support developing nations to finance biodiversity protection.

However, that fund will be set up under the auspices of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a multilateral financial mechanism for several environmental conventions, an option preferred by wealthier nations.

The Montreal agreement seeks to raise international financial flows from developed nations to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, Small Island Developing States, and countries with economies in transition — with funding rising to at least $20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least $30 billion per year by 2030. However, this is far shorter than the total the DRC desired, a total of $100 billion a year, and which NGOs such as the WWF proposed, about $60 billion a year.

“Biodiversity funding was the GEF’s focus going into these talks — more than 60% of our recent $5 billion record replenishment will be allocated to protecting species and their ecosystems through initiatives targeting the drivers of environmental damage. Biodiversity has never been as relevant as an economic and political issue as it is today,” Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, GEF’s CEO and chairperson, said in a statement following the adoption of GBF.

Within the first week of negotiations, developing countries led by Brazil walked-out of finance deliberations in protest against donor countries for refusing to create a biodiversity fund. Developed countries preferred improving the existing funding mechanisms, such as GEF.

In a statement released by Brazil on behalf of the like-minded group of developing countries following the walkout, those nations sought a commitment from developed countries “to mobilise and jointly provide financial grants of at least $100 billion annually or 1% of global GDP until 2030, an amount to be revised for the period 2030-2050.”

These resources “should be new and additional to those already being provided under other [multilateral environmental agreements] MEAs.”

In the final week of the negotiations, 14 donor countries came together to commit billions of dollars to support the protection and restoration of the natural world. Collectively, donors committed $5.33 billion to the 8th replenishment of the GEF, with a minimum of 60% of all GEF financing delivering outcomes that benefit biodiversity.

In order to help close the massive finance gap, nations are looking to redirect part of the estimated $1.8 trillion currently spent per year in government subsidies that harm nature and deplete biodiversity. Most of these harmful subsidies go to the agriculture and production sector. The agricultural sector is responsible for 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss.

Language included in the final text covers the phasing out and eventual elimination of the $1.8 trillion subsidies, with $500 billion per year reductions. According to scientists at the Nature Conservancy, a large chunk of this reduction should be redirected toward restorative agricultural practices and initiatives that restore nature.

NGOs are also calling on countries from the OECD’s development assistance committee, like Finland, New Zealand, and Switzerland, to make more pledges. So far, one-third of member parties have, and there is room for countries with the capacity to contribute, like Qatar and China, to do so, says Mark Opel, finance lead at Campaign for Nature.

“Qatar just got done spending $220 billion on the World Cup,” elaborates Opel. “And we think China, with the second largest economy in the world, has the capacity to increase its financial commitments.”

Read more: What is biodiversity finance?

The DSI controversy and gender equality gains

DSI refers to digitized genetic information obtained from nature, data often used to produce new drugs and novel food products. These digital bonanzas are highly profitable to the companies or nations that use them, but they are very often discovered in the rich, often tropical, ecosystems found in the developing world. These genetic resources are hard to trace back to the nation of origin, so are also easy to pirate. Origin countries understandably want payment for the use of their resources.

Lack of clarity on the definition of DSI, challenges in the traceability of the country of origin of DSI through digital databases, apprehensions around losing open access to DSI data, and divergent views on multilateral or bilateral policy options on benefit-sharing from DSI compounded the Montreal negotiations.

A breakthrough agreement — pushed hard by African states — was reached to develop an equitable funding mechanism on DSI. The Parties agreed to establish, a multilateral mechanism for equitable benefit-sharing from DSI use, including setting up a global fund, to be finalised at COP16 in Turkey in 2024, without prejudice to national access and benefit-sharing measures.

Read more: Equitable benefit sharing of digitised genetic information to span across discussions at COP15

“It is a massive step forward to commit to this mechanism and a significant opportunity to access brand new funds, particularly from the private sector to contribute to resource mobilization. Although the Parties narrowed down the path forward, operationalisation is still undefined. A big question still remains on the coherence of the multilateral approach with national legislations. But dialogue over the next two years will be very useful to find solutions and again deliver compromise,” DSI Scientific Network member Amber Scholz, one of the observers at COP15, told Mongabay-India.

A specific target on gender equality is unique to the post-2020 GBF, compared to the Aichi Targets. It commits the parties to ensuring gender equality in the implementation of the framework “through a gender-responsive approach” where all women and girls have equal opportunity and capacity to contribute to the three objectives of the Convention, including by recognising their “equal rights and access to land and natural resources.”

Other ambitious global targets set at COP15 include having restoration completed or underway on at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems; reducing to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity; cutting global food waste in half, and significantly reducing overconsumption and waste generation — all to be achieved by 2030.

The GBF also includes goals to prevent the introduction of priority invasive alien species, to reduce by at least half the introduction and establishment of other known or potential invasive alien species, and the eradication or control invasive alien species on islands and other priority sites.

Read more: The cost of invasive species bears heavy on Indian economy, finds study


Banner image: Negotiations at COP15. Photo by UN Biodiversity/Flickr

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