The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took place in December 2022 in Montreal, Canada together with the meetings for the Cartagena Protocol and the Nagoya Protocol of the CBD.
Nature is essential for human existence and it sustains the quality of the air, fresh water and soils on which humanity depends, distributes fresh water, regulates the climate, provides pollination and pest control and reduces the impact of socio-natural hazards. Our livelihoods also depend on nature as more than 2 billion people rely on wood fuel for their primary energy needs; around 4 billion people rely primarily on natural medicines for their health care and some 70 % of drugs used for cancer are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature. More than 75 % of global food crop types rely on animal pollination and marine and terrestrial ecosystems are the sole sinks for anthropogenic carbon emissions, with a gross sequestration of 5.6 gigatons of carbon per year (the equivalent of 60 % of global anthropogenic emissions).
Humans are part of nature, yet we see it as something separated from us that can be used and destroyed at our discretion. According to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment Report, around 1 million animal and plant species will disappear from earth and many within the next decades; across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015; and approximately half the live coral cover on coral reefs has been lost since the 1870s, with accelerating losses in recent decades due to climate change exacerbating other drivers.
The IPBES report also clearly identifies the direct drivers of change in nature that are: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species and also highlights that since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius and its impacts are expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.
In order to address the biodiversity crisis of the world, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was established with the mission to achieve a life in harmony with nature by 2050 through three core objectives; conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use, and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. To achieve the mission and objectives, in 2010, parties to the CBD adopted a 10-year work plan that at its core contained 20 targets, known as Aichi Targets that addressed different issues including: the integration and respect to traditional knowledge (T18), the increase of financial resources from all sources (T20), reform of incentives (T3), and sustainable production and consumption.
By the end of the work plan, it was clear that the Aichi targets would not be met and that any subsequent plan had to mainly focus on implementation. This is how a working group is established under the CBD 1 with the aim of conducting the process that will lead to the adoption of a post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at COP 15 of the CBD in 2019. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and CBD COP 15 was not only postponed until December, 2022, but also changed its venue from Kunming, China to Montreal, Canada. Over the years, the working group held 5 meetings in total both online and in person.
What are the results after years of negotiation?
The lengthy and slow negotiation process produced what is now called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework that at its core contains the following:
A theory of change that recognizes the urgent need for policy action to achieve sustainable development so that drivers of undesirable change that have exacerbated biodiversity loss will be reduced and/or reversed.
A vision that is the same as contained in the text of the Convention of living in harmony with nature by 2050 and a mission to take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to put nature on a path to recovery. Pushed by specially big conservationist groups, the concept of ´nature positive´ contested by civil society was not included in the mission.
A set of goals that is basically text aligned with the three objectives of the Convention but with the inclusion of goal D on adequate means of implementation, including financial resources, capacity-building, technical and scientific cooperation, and access to and transfer of technology to also progressively close the biodiversity finance gap of 700 billion dollars per year.
Section H of the framework contains the Kunming-Montreal 2030 Targets that comprise a set of 23 targets. While all of them are connected, each addresses a particular matter with some representing a step forward, others a step backwards from the Aichi Targets and others being a simple reference to the text of the Convention.
Target 17 for example only aims to strengthen capacity to implement article 8(g)2 of the Convention that talks about regulation, management and control of risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms. It represents nothing new to the Convention.
Target 3 related to area based conservation enjoyed hyper attention in decrement of all other targets including those addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss. Promoted mainly by big conservationist groups, the proposal to increase protected areas by at least 30%3 was contested by civil society organizations and indigenous peoples groups for different reasons including the associations to “fortress conservation” and its negative impacts mainly on indigenous peoples and local communities who have been criminalized and displaced from their ancestral lands over decades in the pursuit of a colonial and narrow approach to conservation through Protected Areas. The adopted Target does include this quantitative aspect, but it also includes important references to indigenous peoples and recognition and respect to their rights including the rights over their traditional territories.
Target 15 was not very popular and probably that is the reason for its weak language. Instead of aiming at stronger regulations for the private sector, in particular transnational corporations, it only asks governments to take legal, administrative or policy measures to encourage and enable business, and in particular to ensure that large and transnational companies and financial institutions, to: Regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity; Provide information needed to consumers to promote sustainable consumption patterns; and Report on compliance with access and benefit-sharing regulations and measures, as applicable.
Target 22 is something worth highlighting as positive since it reads: Ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.
Target 23 is also a victory thanks to and for civil society and reads: Ensure 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 recognizing their equal rights and access to land and natural resources and their full, equitable, meaningful and informed participation and leadership at all levels of action, engagement, policy and decision-making related to biodiversity.
The relation between climate change and biodiversity
According to IPBES, climate change is already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics when marine and terrestrial ecosystems are the sole sinks for anthropogenic carbon emissions, with a gross sequestration of 5.6 gigatons of carbon per year (the equivalent of some 60 % of global anthropogenic emissions).
From a climate and ecological justice perspective, the linkages and interdependencies between the atmosphere and the biosphere are evident as well as the common structural causes for the climate and the biodiversity crisis. However, for developed countries and specific conservationist and private interests, it seems that the only connection is how to include biodiversity’s contribution to mitigation in a market based system through nature based solutions (NBS).
COP Decision 23 on Climate change and biodiversity lost its real aim over the years and was oversimplified by developed countries that narrowed down the connection between climate change and biodiversity to using the term nature-based solutions. After going in circles and with no concessions from the global north on including even a reference to the CBDR principle, this decision could not reach any way out and was sent back to the Subsidiary Body of Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the Convention for further discussion.
Target 8 of the adopted Framework focuses on minimizing the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increasing its resilience through mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction actions, including through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem based approaches. The final concession to deal with NBS was to place it together with Ecosystem Based Approaches which is a well defined term under the CBD.
Target 11 was also resolved by placing NBS and Ecosystem based approaches together as a way to restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people such as regulation of air, water, and climate, soil health, pollination and reduction of disease risk, as well as protection from natural hazards and disasters.
Other important elements
Through the decision on Resource Mobilization (CBD/COP/15/L.29), COP 15 adopted a Resource Mobilization Strategy, recognizing that it entails an immediate phase (2023-24), and a medium-term phase (2025-30). It also recognizes the urgency to increase international biodiversity finance, and to establish a dedicated and accessible Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) Fund in 2023 to quickly mobilize and disburse new and additional resources from all sources, commensurate with GBF ambition. It requests the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) to:
- establish in 2023 a special trust fund to support GBF implementation to complement existing support and scale up financing to ensure its timely implementation
- prepare a decision to be considered by the GEF Council on the approval of the GBF Fund, with its own equitable governing body, to be dedicated exclusively to supporting the implementation of the GBF goals and targets;
- advance the necessary institutional and governance arrangements, to allow for the GBF Fund to receive, in addition to official development assistance, financing from all sources; and
- design and implement a project cycle with a simple and effective application and approval process, providing easy and efficient access to resources of the GBF Fund.
- The new Framework is not up to the level of the high expectations and the hard work put in years of negotiation. It fails to address the real drivers of biodiversity loss and even address the structural causes of the destruction of biodiversity. The environmental crisis we are facing responds to common structural problems of our society and our economic model that puts profit over any other consideration. Biodiversity is not attributed rights but instead, it is something we can profit from and can exploit and destroy. This old, anthropocentric and capitalist approach is no longer compatible with the sole existence of millions of species in the world nor with the life and livelihoods of human beings.
- The formulation of the new targets is not a remarkable improvement in comparison to the Aichi targets, but there has been progress in specific matters related to their implementation including the work in indicators. While there are explicit linkages with climate change like Target 8, all other targets address important matters to protect biodiversity that in result will have positive contributions to the fight against climate change.
- The full implementation of the Framework is also linked to the progress of the decision on resource mobilization and the financial mechanism of the CBD. Developed countries have created upon themselves a fact based reputation of non compliance of their obligations on mitigation and finance under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The CBD cannot travel the same rocky path despite the attempts of rich countries to neglect their historical responsibilities in the destruction of biodiversity.
- The results of COP 15 would look very different without the active participation of civil society that has a role in shaping the adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The UNFCCC and the CBD are not the answer to the world and we need to create strong and alternative spaces, but the multilateral process is still relevant and an important strategic space to work on. Without the involvement of civil society, the inclusion and recognition of the rights, in particular of indigenous peoples and local communities, and the adoption of targets 22 and 23 would not have been possible.
- On the flip side, the role of big conservationist groups and private interests is evident and also has an impact on the results of COP 15. The promotion of terms and schemes such as Nature Positive and Nature-based solutions have, to say the least, questionable added contributions to biodiversity and distract from addressing the real drivers of biodiversity loss.
- The CBD and its new Framework are not the solution to the biodiversity crisis but if fully implemented, the new targets have a potential to contribute to a change in the trajectory of biodiversity loss. Governments alone won’t make it happen because the economic interests are still above all others. The role of civil society to look after implementation in the territories together with making governments accountable for the destruction of biodiversity will be crucial in the coming years. As society, we need urgent work on clear alternative development models through just transitions that can be made effective in the short run. There is no time to lose. We need to create new realities that leave the old ones behind.
1Open Ended Working Group on Post 2020
2(g) Establish or maintain means to regulate, manage or control the risks associated with the use and release of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology which are likely to have adverse environmental impacts that could affect the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account the risks to human health;
3Its predecessor, Aichi target 17, aimed at 17% of terrestrial land and 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation