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Adoption of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at COP 15 must not be the final step
Posted on behalf of: Dr Joanna Smallwood
Last updated: Monday, 19 December 2022
On the last day of the much-anticipated United Nations (UN) Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) [19 December 2022], the biggest and most important international biodiversity multi-lateral agreement of its kind, the summit agrees a new deal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. SSRP Research Fellow and Lecturer in Environmental Law Dr Joanna Smallwood shares her thoughts and insights on the adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (Post-2020 GBF) after having participated in and experienced the eventful two-week negotiations in Montreal up close:
Until today, the international community has not been able to set an ambitious post-2020 agenda for biodiversity conservation. Despite serious objections in a tense closing plenary from some member parties, notably the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, the UN Biodiversity Conference 2022 really represents a once-in-a-decade moment with the Kunming-Montreal Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework (Post-2020 GBF) having been agreed and adopted with four goals and 23 new global targets for biodiversity in the early hours of the last day of COP 15.
Like many others when I came to COP15 I was not optimistic about an agreement to a strengthened implementation mechanism (see SSRP Policy Brief 9), and just over halfway through the painstakingly slow negotiations the picture looked very bleak. I was not prepared for the looming reality that a decision on the implementation mechanism for the Post-2020 GBF may not reach a conclusion at all and feared – as it happened – that much would be left to the two short days over the weekend.
A landmark agreement?
Achieving this landmark agreement is therefore a major step forward in ensuring the health of our planet (including us). It questions the need, during times of escalating environmental crisis, to push the limits of traditional consensus decision making procedures in multi-lateral agreements by following the agreement of the majority.
Those involved in or following the process will understand the monumental efforts this has entailed: it is no mean feat to gain global consensus, especially at a time where there has been significant global disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, conservation of biodiversity involves uneven and inequitable patterns concerning those responsible for biodiversity loss, those who benefit from biodiversity, those charged with the heaviest burden to conserve biodiversity and those most impacted by the biodiversity crisis. Hence, COP 15 witnessed tense moments during negotiations over financial support, resource mobilisation and access and benefit sharing, and it is key that sufficient support is given to developing countries to meet the huge task being asked of them – and in fact to follow a very different path than that travelled by developed countries.
The text of the Post-2020 GBF we see today has been the result of four years of party negotiations supported by the secretariat, but it is much more than that. There have been tireless efforts from non-parties to push the biodiversity agenda forward: important groups such as indigenous peoples and local communities, women and youth, NGOs, scientific communities, lawyers, and academics, have all been working to support the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in this process. This has reaped some rewards; there are targets for the first time on gender (target 22 and 23), there is stronger recognition of intergenerational equity, and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and different value systems including the Rights of Mother Earth and the Rights of Nature. Although arguably these could have been better incorporated within the Post-2020 GBF by recognising these rights within key targets and as principles of implementation, not just considerations.
An interesting development has been the number of businesses engaged at the CBD, calling for a clear framework that they can support. This in some ways is promising given the lack of engagement by business in the CBD processes so far, yet there are obvious alarm bells too in respect of greenwashing and the compatibility of biodiversity conservation with neoliberal models of production and consumption dominating the globe. Yet, a positive step forward can be seen in target 15 which directly calls for business to ‘progressively reduce negative impacts on biodiversity’, and increase positive impacts, including through monitoring, assessing, and transparently disclosing their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity. Legal frameworks in the EU and UK on zero deforestation supply chains offer exemplars and motivation for other major consumer countries heavily impacting on biodiversity, such as China, to implement similar measures. Target 16 calls for responsible consumption and will be key in addressing indirect drivers of biodiversity loss.
Is the adoption of the Post-2020 GBF enough to achieve the radical transformations needed to avert the biodiversity crisis?
With a heavy heart, I believe that whilst there are some positive developments, the Post-2020 GBF does not go far enough. Many targets have been watered down and a key issue is the lack of a system of accountability at the CBD, which is not at all transparent to individual party progress (see SSRP Policy Brief 9). Transparency and compliance mechanisms are vital means to facilitate implementation and not uncommon in other multi-lateral agreements, it is hugely disappointing that this was a missed opportunity by the CBD at COP 15.
So what next?
All is not lost, there is still time (just) to change the trajectory and bend the curve on biodiversity loss. This will involve all parties going home and taking concrete actions and to facilitate whole of government and society approaches to urgently implement stronger measures for biodiversity, including Rights of Nature approaches (see previous SSRP Blog), upholding the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as learning lessons from their respectful relationship with nature. The development of National Biodiversity Strategies and Actions Plans will be key to agree ambitious and SMART national targets towards global goals, to create synergies with other multilateral agreements, to use global and national indicators to measure progress, and incorporate business and non-state actors in this process. Lastly, it is essential that strong systems of reporting, review and feedback from national to local levels of governance are developed (see SSRP Policy Brief 9). This of course requires political will and we can all play a part in demanding this as a priority for our governments and industry to address through voting, lobbying, persuasion and social learning, and making quick steps towards living in harmony with nature.
Dr Joanna Smallwood at preliminary meetings of CBD COP 13 in Montreal
Written by Dr Joanna Smallwood, SSRP Research Fellow and Lecturer in Law (School of Law, Politics and Sociology, University of Sussex). Joanna has a long-standing interest in nature conservation and law. As well as working on her forthcoming book 'Implementing International Environmental Law', Joanna's research focusses on transformative governance of food production and consumption and nature conservation.