Negotiators from nearly 200 nations descend on Montreal next week for the COP15 UN biodiversity summit eyeing a landmark agreement to protect and restore nature, but behind the headline targets lurk concerns over who pays and how to translate global ambition into national targets and action plans.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of the Parities (COP), originally intended to be held in Kunming, China in 2020 but delayed because of COVID-19, comes amid unprecedented international focus on the potentially catastrophic biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse facing humanity.
The first job for delegates is to agree on a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which in its draft version includes over 20 different biodiversity targets.
Chief among those is a requirement for the world to be nature positive by 2030 – meaning there should be more nature globally in that year than there was in 2020 – and achieve full natural restoration by mid-century.
“The highest stakes [in the] negotiations will be whether or not we reach agreement on nature positive being adopted in the official text, and the significance of that will be that it would become the North Star for biodiversity commitments by governments and corporates,” said Laura Waterford, director at advisory and investment firm Pollination.
“There’s already a lot of momentum behind this, but having it adopted in the official text would be like the Paris Agreement [for climate action], it would add a lot of weight to that conversation,” she told Carbon Pulse.
Accompanying the headline target number are a number of other daunting challenges, such as closing the annual $700 billion funding gap to address biodiversity loss, including with bigger contributions from business, requiring governments to take biodiversity into account when designing policies, and for corporations to start reporting risks and dependencies related to biodiversity.
There are also goals regarding reducing pollution from all sources, limiting climate change’s impact on biodiversity, reducing subsidies that harm nature, and ensuring developing countries receive their fair share of revenue earned from generic material, such as through the development and sale of medicines.
DEGREES OF DIFFICULT
The overall ambition about becoming “nature positive” appears to have a lot of support. Lucy Coast, communications director with non-profit Business for Nature, told Carbon Pulse that negotiators were unlikely to have any appetite for leaving Montreal without having reached an agreement on that.
It’s not a target that is easy to measure, however. It is accompanied in the draft text by a proposal to protect 30% of all land and sea by 2030, backed by parties such as Canada, the EU, and the UK, though as soon as goals start having specific numbers like that, talks get trickier.
The “30 by 30” target would also be collective, with less clarity on how this goal could be translated into national-level obligations.
Another tricky issue is the goal to reduce harmful impacts on nature by all governments and businesses.
Estimates show some $1.8 trillion worth of global subsidies cause direct harm to nature every year.
Coast said some business groups are pushing for a commitment to reduce that number by at least $500 billion annually, much of which could be achieved by redirecting existing subsidies.
However, getting all 200 governments to commit to going back home with a message to powerful domestic special interests that they are being cut off would require something extraordinary.
“Getting agreement on that is not a simple task, but it is doable,” she said.
Progress on reporting requirements for big corporations is considered less complicated, and Business for Nature’s ongoing campaign to make it mandatory to disclose risks and dependencies on nature by 2030 has already won the support of almost 350 companies and organisations worldwide.
“This for me is a game changer. For the first time a global biodiversity agreement could explicitly include the role of business as part of the solution,” observed Edward Pollard, strategic director at UK-based the Biodiversity Consultancy.
“I am optimistic that [this target] will be in the final agreement in some form, and this will be a big step forward in the inclusion of businesses in nature recovery,” he added.
Forcing business to grapple with their relationship with nature is also expected to indirectly help towards the target of closing the biodiversity finance gap, as companies will be under pressure to reduce their negative impacts and contribute to natural restoration.
But the $700 bln is a big extra bill to pay every year, especially considering total global spend on biodiversity last year amounted to only around $150 bln.
Governments must pick up a big share of that bill, but making them commit to it is proving difficult, according to Li Shuo, an analyst with Greenpeace East Asia.
Germany and China are among very few countries that have committed additional funding so far, whereas nations like the UK and France have only proposed to direct some of their climate change fundings to activities with biodiversity benefits, a move Li said was “a very upfront case of double-counting”.
“We are calling for developed countries to provide at least $100 billion per year in funding to developing countries,” he said. “This needs to be enshrined in the framework.”
His comments came as UNEP on Thursday released its annual State of Finance for Nature report, urging funding for nature-based solutions to more than double by 2025, to $384 bln.
Put together, these issues make for challenging negotiations in the two weeks to come, and analysts BloombergNEF on Thursday released a report saying there is only a 50-50 chance that Montreal will succeed in achieving the biodiversity equivalent of the Paris Agreement.
It said the chances of agreeing the “30 by 30” target stood the best chance at 7/10, with mandatory reporting and an overall goal of managing nature in a sustainable manner scored 6/10.
But a deal on closing the finance gap only got a 3/10 chance to succeed, according to the BloombergNEF analysts, and a deal on benefit-sharing on genetic resources was considered only slightly more likely at 4/10.
JUST THE BEGINNING
Should all or some of the targets be agreed upon, there is still the issue of staking out a pathway to implementation on the national level, so that individual countries can go on and meet those goals over the next eight years.
That hasn’t gone so well in the past, and observers are under no illusion that even with a deal agreed in Montreal, it will be a tough job to ensure progress in the coming years.
CBD parties agreed to a set of 10-year biodiversity targets at the COP in Aichi, Japan in 2010, but assessments have shown that not a single one of those were fully met.
Part of that was due to the lack of measurability of the targets, as metrics remain a major stumbling-block for real progress on nature-related issues.
“We don’t have a global currency like tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, so it becomes very challenging for parties to understand the progress we’re making towards living in harmony with nature,” Alfred DeGemmis, associate director of international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society in the US told a media briefing on Thursday.
“I think one way to actually make more progress than we did under Aichi is to … increase mutual understanding of the metrics we’re using, and build it towards some sort of global review, and maybe a ratchet system where we actually respond to those gaps and redouble our efforts,” he added.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace’s Li said countries would have to be presented with clear guidance on how to proceed after Montreal.
“These targets will be at a global level. We need to translate them back to different countries. All the countries need to respond to each and every one of the targets,” he said.
Li said that countries should be required to specify their share of the global “30 by 30” target and develop plans for how they intend to meet them within a year after COP15 concludes.
FUELLING THE MARKET
In parallel with the political talks there has over the past year or so been increasing interest in developing a voluntary biodiversity credit market to help raise private-sector funds.
Privately some observers have predicted that this new biodiversity market in time could be “bigger than carbon”, though the very fundamentals of how such a market would operate are still being discussed.
Biodiversity credits are not on the agenda for negotiators in Montreal, but the theme is likely to be prominent during side events and the outcome of the talks will have a significant bearing on how the market develops in the months ahead.
“This COP has garnered far more interest from the private sector than any other biodiversity COP has done in the past, so I think it will be a really good opportunity to gauge the interest of the private sector in understanding the strategies behind nature positive and investing in nature, and whether biodiversity markets are the first port of call for that sort of investment,” said Pollination’s Waterford.
Her view was shared by the Biodiversity Consultancy’s Pollard.
“I am not sure how much biodiversity credits will be part of the formal negotiations and final GBF. What is clear however is that biodiversity credits are a hot topic right now, and I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion on the side lines as to the role of credits and credit schemes,” he said.
“Biodiversity credits could be acquired by those wanting to drive positive biodiversity outcomes. There is a lot we can learn from the evolution of carbon credits, and a lot of discussions to be had on what high-integrity biodiversity credits look like, and how we can ensure they deliver positive outcomes for nature and for people,” he added.
By Stian Reklev, Mark Tilly, Roy Manuell, and Katherine Monahan – email@example.com