The UN’s biodiversity negotiations opened in Montreal on Tuesday, with high-level statements noting the significant challenges that lie ahead in forging a new global framework to halt and reverse the alarming rate of nature loss, as global delegates brace for intense negotiations over a currently heavily bracketed text.
The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) aims to adopt a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that some have compared to the Paris Agreement for climate change.
“Today, we representatives of various parties and stakeholders from across the world … have overcome difficulties, and come together in Montreal with the sole aim of reversing the global biological diversity loss as early as possible,” said Huang Runqiu, president of COP15 and minister of ecology and environment of China, during the opening press conference on Tuesday.
Through a series of agreed goals, targets, and indicators, the GBF aims to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity, under a shared vision of “living in harmony with nature”.
But draft text to support that goal is currently long and complex, with divisive views on many of its elements, pointing to a long road ahead for the Montreal talks to achieve its objective of a global agreement.
“While this is a very historical framework, we do have differences and challenges … We have 196 parties of the CBD that all want to express their stated critical points,” Huang said.
Unlike the climate negotiations, which aim to reduce tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, there is no single indicator within the biodiversity discussions that could be targeted to reach the overall goal, complicating the work and resulting in 22 draft targets currently on the table.
Even what’s known as the headline target – aiming to protect 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030 – shrouds many subtleties, including how it should relate to national implementation plans, and what constitutes “protection”.
“One might argue – and I guess I am – that our 1.5C is the 3×3, protecting 30% of lands and oceans by 2030,” said Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault for Canada, referring to the collective goal under the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to 1.5-2C.
“The next two weeks will not be easy. The road to success is long, and we have many views and opinions to hear and reconcile,” he added.
Nations will need to agree on National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans or “NBSAPs”, which correlate in some ways to the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
But there are many questions about how parties’ own targets will be reviewed and how the aggregate commitments will be reviewed, a key requirement to prevent empty promises.
Reaching agreement on common metrics, a transparency framework for reporting those metrics, and some type of ratchet system to increase ambition in the future will be critical to a successful outcome.
Other thorny issues include biodiversity finance, harmful subsidy reform, and digital sequence information (DSI), with the latter connected to the sharing of the benefits arising through nature, something that many developing countries have said has been dominated by corporates such as the pharmaceutical industry.
Although the CBD was created in 1992 at the same time as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it had flown under the radar for many years, with global attention only recently turning towards the critical issue.
A stark reminder of this trend is the fact that no global leaders will attend the talks – save the Canadian-host’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – whereas more than 150 heads of state and government attended the Paris Agreement UN negotiations in 2015.
“Climate in a lot of ways is really at the top of the agenda, it can swing elections, it dominates discourse at multilateral meetings. Biodiversity presents an equally existential threat and has not received the same level of attention,” said Alfred DeGemmis, associate director of international policy at non-profit WSC.
“Hopefully COP15 will be a landmark moment in bringing some of that visibility to the biodiversity crisis,” he added.
High-level speakers on Tuesday pointed out that global leaders have supported a successful outcome through the recent G20 and UN general assembly statements, and noted that the interlinkages between climate and biodiversity loss are now well defined.
“The biodiversity crisis we face requires the same level of effort as the climate crisis, and actually there’s no time to lose,” said Canada’s Guilbeault.
NOT GROUND ZERO
The Montreal conference has been a long time in the making, as the CBD agreed to adopt a new framework in 2020 back in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan.
The previous strategic plan for biodiversity, and its accompanying Aichi targets, oversaw the 2011-20 period, but insufficient progress in reaching those targets has led to the plan to be considered a failure.
The Aichi targets have, however, formed a good starting point for post-2020 negotiations, with several lessons learned along the 12-year journey, and many of the same targets leaking into the draft GBF.
It is now broadly recognised, for example, that better monitoring, reporting, and accountability frameworks are needed for any goals set.
But progress has been painfully slow in developing the draft GBF text, with COP15 delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic and “Part 1” of the talks having taken place virtually in October last year.
Since then, open ended working groups have attempted to advance the draft text, including during a three-day pre-COP session that ended Monday.
“The current draft still has a lot of brackets, so we need the negotiators to discuss and agree to remove those brackets,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary to the UN CBD.
Given divergent views on a number of issues, little progress was achieved during these recent working group meeting, meaning that the draft GBF will be passed on to COP15 heavily bracketed with many contentious issues unresolved.
“I have personally to admit that I don’t feel the delegates went as far as we had expected … They need to focus on the end goal … and first we need compromise on all targets,” Maruma Mrema said.
“Flexibility, compromise, consensus. It doesn’t mean that at the end of the day, each country will get 100% of what they wish to get,” she added.
The issue of biodiversity finance will also be key to a successful outcome, including how rich countries can provide more support to the Global South.
“With agreement on the plan, it will need to be delivered in full and urgently and across all of society,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.
“And that means agreeing here, at this COP, on sufficient resources, and on ensuring greater transparency in progress,” she added.
Financial commitments as well as the thorny issue of benefit sharing are two of the key reasons that the US failed to ratify the CBD in the 1990s, with Republicans noting inadequate protection of intellectual property rights and financial implications as key barriers.
By Katherine Monahan – email@example.com