Delegates met for the fourth day of official negotiations at the UN COP15 biodiversity talks on Saturday, where the pace of progress is accelerating to agree the text that will form the post-2020 global agreement – but only if “progress” is measured in “bracket count”, according to some groups of observers.
After slow progress reported by groups of environmental non-profits over the first few days of the conference, Friday and Saturday saw a burst of progress to whittle down the number of brackets in the draft text of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
Bracketed text highlights areas of disagreement, or where no consensus can be found in specific wording, but some observers worry that scrambling for agreement to reduce bracket count could water down the text.
“Brackets are dropping like flies,” Bernadette Fischler, head of international advocacy at green-group WWF UK, told a press conference Saturday morning.
“But brackets must not come at the expense of ambition,” she added, clarifying that negotiators need to “up the ambition” while simultaneously dropping the bracket count.
Technical negotiators have been pressured to clean up the text before passing it over to ministers and other high-level representatives who will start arriving at COP15 next week.
Clean text must be provided to all the parties in the plenary for adoption at the end of the COP.
On Friday, several civil society groups, representing segments including Indigenous peoples, conservation organisations, and youth, held a press conference to “sound the alarm” over the overall slow pace of progress at the COP15 negotiations.
The lack of progress was specifically highlighted for key issues such as finance for nature, how governments will be held accountable to their commitments, and how human rights-based approaches are reflected in the text, including safeguarding the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
COP15 “working groups” are established on specific issues with the aim to provide clean text.
For areas where significant work is required, the chairs of the working groups can create ‘contact groups’ or ‘friends of the chair’ to hash out specific issues.
The contact group established on the GBF was originally mandated to go over the entire text, meeting in the afternoon and evening over the past few days.
“The contact group made progress on a number of paragraphs … Many brackets were lifted, but several paragraphs remain in brackets and need to be taken up again,” Rosemary Paterson, New Zealand delegate and co-chair of the GBF working group 1, told plenary participants Saturday afternoon.
There were 1,800 brackets in the GBF text coming out of the Nairobi session in June, but the informal meetings before COP15 had helped reduce this count to around 900.
Some of the targets are already clean, but many of the most prickly issues remain unresolved, several observers have noted, with these divergences more apparent as the text is cleaned up further.
One of the trickiest issues is finance for biodiversity, which serves as an example of how brackets can be lifted without the core of the argument agreed.
“Parties agreed that access to funding is one of the biggest challenges faced by domestic resource mobilisation. Parties disagreed on how best to address this challenge,” Paterson said.
The role of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in finance commitments is particularly contentious, some observers have noted.
With some 193 governments having joined the talks in Montreal, reaching the required consensus on these types of issues will be difficult.
The next COP is scheduled to be held in Turkey in 2024, but several groups have already noted that the schedule should be fast-tracked to 2023.
Likewise for COP17, which is currently planned for 2026. It is expected to be hosted in a country in the Central and Eastern European regions, with nominations continuing to roll in.
But these later negotiating sessions will need a solid agreement to work from, and observers say the Montreal GBF must include as many details as possible to avoid text that is so compromised that it becomes meaningless.
It is widely recognised that concrete and measurable targets are needed for 2030, observers have noted, but the implementation framework for monitoring, review, and verification of targets implementation is also crucial.
WWF’s Fischler noted that a “ratchet mechanism” – to ensure that ambition can be strengthened if progress is assessed as insufficient – is one of these critical elements, but that she is dismayed to see many parties resisting the idea.
“We can’t hatchet the ratchet,” she added.
By Katherine Monahan – firstname.lastname@example.org