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9 things you need to know about COP15

20 December 2022
Legal Briefings

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The UN's flagship conference on biological diversity set ambitious goals, but the real tests are yet to come

BACKGROUND

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) concluded yesterday in Montréal. There were high hopes, as noted in our pre-COP15 post, for a "Paris Agreement for nature". In this article, we will consider if the agreed Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework (the Framework) delivered on this ambitious goal.

POSITIVES

1. States acknowledged the scale and urgency of the challenge

The Framework recognised the latest biodiversity science: biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history, and around one million species face extinction (many within decades) unless action is taken. Therefore, it aims to "galvanise urgent and transformative action…with the involvement of all of society to halt and reverse biodiversity loss". In respect of its specific 2030 targets, it notes such action must be "initiated immediately and completed by 2030".

2. The vision – Four global goals for 2050

COP15's overarching vision was "by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people."

The Framework sets four long-term goals to achieve this vision. First, ecosystems must be maintained, enhanced, or restored and human-induced extinction of known threatened species must be halted (and the extinction rate of all species reduced tenfold), while genetic diversity must be maintained. Second, biodiversity must only be used sustainably, such that ecosystem functions and services are maintained. Third, the benefits from genetic resources and digitally sequenced information from genetic resources must be shared equitably, including with indigenous peoples and local communities. Fourth, adequate financial resources must be provided, especially to developing countries, to progressively close the biodiversity financing gap of $700 billion.

3. The mission – 23 global targets for 2030

To achieve the above 2050 vision, the Framework sets an intermediate mission for 2030 of taking urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss through a series of 23 global targets. The most significant are:

  • To restore at least 30% of degraded ecosystems, whether terrestrial or aquatic (Target 2).
  • To effectively conserve and manage at least 30% of areas, whether terrestrial or aquatic, especially those areas of particular importance for biodiversity (Target 3). Currently, only 17% of land and 10% of marine areas are protected.
  • To reduce the impact of pollution to levels not harmful to biodiversity by 2030, and to reduce the overall risk from pesticides by at least 50% by 2030 (Target 7).
  • To minimise the impact of climate change on biodiversity, and increase biodiversity's resilience to climate change, including through the use of nature-based solutions (Target 8).
  • To sustainably manage areas under agriculture, fisheries and forestry through biodiversity friendly practices (Target 10).
  • To equitably reduce the global footprint of consumption, including by halving global food waste (Target 16).
  • To ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision making and implementation of the Framework, including the full protection of environmental human rights defenders (Targets 22 and 23).

The Framework also includes financial and business-related targets, such as:

  • Disclosure: To ensure large and transnational businesses regularly monitor and disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, and provide information to consumers to promote sustainable consumption (Target 15). This target will likely strengthen countries' resolve to implement the recommendations from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) when these are published in September 2023.
  • Action on subsidies: To eliminate, phase out or reform incentives and subsidies harmful to biodiversity in a just, fair and equitable way; and, starting with the most harmful incentives, reduce them by at least $500 billion by 2030 (Target 18).
  • Funding: To mobilise at least $200 billion per year by 2030 from all sources (ie, both public and private finance) to implement national biodiversity strategies; and to provide at least $20 billion by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030 to developing countries through the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (Target 19).

4. Recognition of the importance of indigenous peoples and shift from anthropocentric focus

The Framework explicitly recognises the importance of indigenous peoples and communities and acknowledges their role as custodians of biodiversity. It requires their rights, knowledge and traditional practices are respected and preserved, and that their participation in effective decision-making should be facilitated. Greenpeace has hailed this step as significant, describing them as "the most capable and knowledgeable guardians of nature".

Throughout the Framework, there was a noticeable and widespread shift towards inclusivity and multiple references to the concept of "Mother Earth", promoting a relationship with nature that is viewed in the context of harmony and continuity, and not solely for extractive opportunities.

5. Sharing of benefits from biodiversity

COP15 established a multilateral mechanism for benefit-sharing from the use of digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources, including a global fund. DSI refers to digital biological data (eg, the sequenced genome from a plant) and traditional knowledge associated with such genetic resources, which can be used in the development of medicines and new crop species. The establishment of a global fund helps to address developing countries' concerns that their DSI is being commercially exploited by developed countries.

CHALLENGES

6. Money pledged

A headline ambition for COP15 was to close the biodiversity financing gap which is estimated to be around $700 billion per year. While the Framework included goals to invest $200 billion a year by 2030, including $30 billion for developing countries, COP15 did not prompt a swathe of countries to declare increased funding ambitions. The EU remains the largest donor having pledged €7 billion for the period 2021 to 2027; China promised $233 million for developing countries; and the UK promised £30 million for developing countries. It therefore remains to be seen whether sufficient funds will be provided.

7. A 'new' fund for biodiversity?

COP15 faced a last-minute objection from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was joined by Cameroon and Uganda, with complaints that the Chinese COP15-president forced the final deal through without debate. The DRC wanted the biodiversity fund to be separate from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) because the largest recipients currently include more economically developed countries like China, India and Brazil, and some African countries wanted more money for conservation. Despite use of the GEF, the DRC has since accepted the Framework.

8. Watered down language

While unsurprising, the agreed text of the Framework was less ambitious than some groups had hoped. For example, the draft Framework's requirement that businesses take legal responsibility and provide redress for damage was not incorporated into the final version. The WWF also expressed regret the commitment to halt extinctions was before 2050 and not 2030. The ambition to secure a 'nature-positive' world was also absent. While some consider this a nebulous concept, others noted its inclusion in the G7 Nature Compact and thought it a central rallying cry to promote concrete actions to enhance ecosystems.

9. Will it work?

The main vehicles for the implementation of the Framework are the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) which countries must prepare and implement. Countries should monitor and report every five years on a series of indicators including the percentage of land and seas conserved, and the number of companies disclosing their impacts on biodiversity.

There are concerns, however, that the Framework has insufficient detail to enable targets to be easily translated into policies, especially as these may be unpopular domestically. This worry is compounded by the fact each of the previous set of biodiversity targets, set in Japan in 2011, were missed and biodiversity solutions (through nature-positive actions and nature-based solutions) are arguably still embryonic compared to the revolution in clean energy that was sparked by the Paris Agreement.  

As we await countries' NBSAPs for details of their biodiversity strategies, the real test for COP15 is yet to come.

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