Global Commitment For Protecting People And The Planet

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 43 No. 2, February 2023

By Vishaish Uppal and Aparna K.

Planet Earth in Danger

Promises made… and broken

Young people must never give up. Their elders, who seem incapable of real change, must see the writing on the wall and know that history will not remember them well. Before reading any  further, Sanctuary recommends that our readers listen to Al Gore, speaking to those in the driver’s seats at The World Economic Forum held between January 16 and 20, 2023 at the Swiss town of Davos. Like Greta Thunberg, he speaks truth to power and heaven knows this is a time for truth-telling in the chambers of power, where much of the fate of the planet lies in the hands of those who continue to place profit over the survival of life on Earth… people who have profited from turning Earth’s atmosphere and its life-giving ecosystems into sewers. People who, for decades, have neither prioritised people, nor our magical planet.

Listen to what Al Gore has to say on the carbon cowboys who control the oil, coal and gas industries and more: We Have the Tech to Slow Climate Change – So Where’s Political Will, asks Al Gore

Read what Shailendra Yashwant, one of India’s finest environmental journalists, writes in the Deccan Herald about what he wants from Budget 2023. He asks that India’s policy makers desist from inflicting illogical budget cuts on the protection of India’s splendid and vanishing biodiversity. He points out the importance of the protection of our biodiversity, which is crucial for India’s ecosystems and directly contributes to providing livelihoods: Budget 2023. No more illogical cuts; allocate more for biodiversity conservation, Deccan Herald.

The world created a landmark moment in December 2022 when nations agreed on the global decadal framework for biodiversity conservation, which has galvanised political commitment by all countries to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

This agreement comes under the ambit of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty adopted in 1992 at the Rio Summit, which provides a global legal framework for action on biodiversity. The convention has been ratified by 196 countries barring the U.S. and Holy See (the Vatican). The main pillars of the convention are:

* Conservation of biodiversity
* Sustainable use of its components, and
* The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

Much of Northeast India has lost its forests to jhum or shifting cultivation that involves clearing of land and cultivating it for a short period, until the soil is depleted, and then abandoning it and clearing more land. In this high-rainfall region, with topsoil being eroded heavily, continued jhum cultivation will eventually lead to complete desertification. Photo: Public Domain/Joli Borah.

A Delayed Convention

The Conference of Parties (COP) 15, scheduled to be held in Kunming in 2020, was finally held in Montreal in 2022, where negotiators gave shape to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Though this framework was delayed by two years, it is ambitious and includes key elements that will hopefully contribute toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals, address the climate emergency and also provide substantial benefits to people.

The reasons for the failure of achieving the Aichi Targets, the last strategic plan (2011-2020) adopted in 2010, were widely understood. This agreement was developed based on the lessons learnt and by adopting an inclusive and transparent process keeping in mind that a strong implementation framework and enhanced resources are required for successful implementation.

Procedurally, COP15 was held in two parts on account of the COVID19 pandemic:  COP15.1 was held in Kunming in October 2020 in a hybrid form, which resulted in the adoption of the ‘Kunming Declaration’, where Parties reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the components of CBD and called for urgent action to reflect biodiversity considerations in all sectors of the global economy; COP15.2 was held in Montreal in December 2022, which was a physical meeting and had over 17,000  delegates from 196 countries, as well as the UN, civil society, Indigenous people and local communities, youth, women, academicians as well as the private sector. COP15.2, along with the concurrent Meeting of Parties (MOPs) on the two protocols under COP – Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, adopted over 50 decisions on multiple topics such as marine and coastal biodiversity, invasive alien species, biodiversity, and health and synthetic biology. The COP also adopted the gender plan of action, asking parties to support advancing gender mainstreaming and gender responsive GBF implementation, and was welcomed by all, especially women’s groups.

The Negotiating Pathway

Even though the GBF was adopted in Montreal after lengthy deliberations, which continued until midnight and beyond, the process to develop a robust post-2020 GBF began immediately after COP14 in 2018, which adopted a decision for the same. An open-ended working group was established, which was tasked with drafting the GBF and steering Parties and stakeholders towards consensus building. A total of five meetings were held and there were tough negotiations, which delivered the final draft with text in brackets (over 1,000 brackets) to the COP for final deliberation, consensus and adoption.

The GBF mission to take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030 is essential to achieve the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature by ensuring that biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people. In the face of accelerating biodiversity loss, the GBF’s agreed mission is ambitious and is an equivalent of the 1.50C climate change target of the Paris Agreement.

The mission hopes to be achieved through four overarching 2050 goals:

Goal A – conservation of ecosystems, species and genetic diversity;
Goal B – sustainable use and management of biodiversity;
Goal C – benefits from the utilisation of genetic resources and Digital Sequence Information from genetic resources; and
Goal D – means of implementation. These are supported by 23 targets, which are categorised as reducing threats to biodiversity (targets 1-8), meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing (targets 9-13), and tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming (targets 14-23).

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), took place in Montreal, Canada, from December 7-19, 2022. The biggest biodiversity conference in a decade, it offered a glimmer of hope with countries striking a historic deal on protecting and restoring nature. Photo: Rituraj Phukan.

Ambitious And Robust Targets

Reducing threats and scaling up actions for conservation of habitats and species is the need of the hour. The science is clear that to maintain the resilience of biodiversity and ecosystem services and species conservation, the key is to conserve at least 30 per cent of land, inland waters and oceans globally, which is an important Target 3 of the Framework. It is crucial to note that the target ensures recognition of the contribution of Indigenous and traditional territories as well as other effective area-based conservation measures towards its achievement. This has almost doubled the ambition since currently only 17 per cent of land and roughly eight per cent of marine areas are under protection. The GBF through its other targets has also recognised the importance of restoration of at least 30 per cent of degraded terrestrial ecosystems, inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems. The call for urgent management actions to halt human induced extinction of known threatened species and for the recovery and conservation of species as well as reducing to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance and high ecological integrity is required to be taken up urgently and effectively if we want to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

Limitations Of The GBF

The GBF does fall short on addressing the major drivers of biodiversity loss – the increasing production and consumption footprint. A transformative and inclusive approach is required to deliver a just transition in the productive sectors. The framework urges for a substantial increase in the application of biodiversity-friendly practices, such as sustainable intensification, agroecological and other innovative approaches applied to areas under agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, but it does not emphasise enough the need to reduce footprints across all sectors. The targets also mention important elements of footprint reduction such as halving the risk of pesticide use, halving food waste and reducing overconsumption, and it asks for full integration of biodiversity and its multiple values into policies, regulations, planning and development processes. However, the agreement could have laid more emphasis on addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss.

The thick bamboo, oak and rhododendron forests of the Singalila National Park, in West Bengal. Forests such as this are our true natural assets that must not be lost to short-term economic gains that accelerate climate change while depleting the availability of fresh water and eroding the ability of our soils to feed our people. Photo: Nayan Khanolkar.

India At COP15
By J. Justin Mohan

Ahead of COP15, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had conducted a series of meetings with line departments to ascertain their views on the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which was finalised by the CBD for adoption at the COP.  The National Biodiversity Authority, the principal advisor to the Government on biodiversity related matters, had provided the required inputs to MoEFCC. The Indian delegation, which was headed by the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, had prepared India’s position on various issues, which were brought as an agenda for discussion on the GBF, Nagoya Protocol and Cartagena Protocol.

The Indian delegation met with delegates from Turkey, which will be hosting COP16 in 2024. India called for an urgent need for a dedicated fund to help developing countries implement the global framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. Photo Courtesy: Justin Mohan.
During the meetings of the Working Groups, Contact Groups and Friends of Chair, we had articulated India’s position on various issues and many of our suggestions including bringing Digital Sequence Information under the benefit sharing mechanism, adopting Ecosystem Based Approaches for biodiversity conservation and reducing wasteful consumption, as propounded by our Prime Minister under the Life Mission, were incorporated in the text of the GBF. The proposal of the High Ambition Coalition, to which India is also a party, to bring 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent sea under conservation was also included as a target under the GBF.
During COP15, we informed the world community about India’s achievements in biodiversity conservation at different side events organised by WWF, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, UNEP, GBYN and other reputed INGOs. I shared letters sent by school students in India from the CEO of Reserva: The Youth Land Trustt, which had mobilised one million letters from students around different countries addressed to world leaders on their ideas for better biodiversity conservation.
Now that we have the GBF in place with four goals and 23 targets, India will have to finalise the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), aligning our programmes in different sectors towards the goals and targets of the GBF. Given the monitoring framework in place, India will have to report on its activities to implement the GBF.
India has been implementing the Biodiversity Finance Programme with the UNDP since 2015, to identify financial requirements for biodiversity conservation and the scope for mobilising financial support for biodiversity conservation initiatives. Many of our initiatives such as mainstreaming of schemes towards biodiversity conservation, mobilising funds from corporates through the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanism and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), besides designing a logo for ABS compliant companies to place the same on their products were applauded by other countries at COP15.

The Final Plenary session in progress at COP15 in Montreal, Canada. While committing to biodiversity protection, India did not agree to numerical targets in pesticide reduction citing agriculture as a key economic driver. Photo Courtesy: Justin Mohan.
The Global Biodiversity Framework will be the foundation for biodiversity conservation in 196 countries until 2030, and since there are quantitative numbers assigned for each target and a monitoring framework in place along with a recognition for mobilisation of resources for biodiversity conservation in the framework, this will go a long way to conserve our biodiversity and mitigate climate change so that humanity can live in harmony with nature in the coming years.
J. Justin Mohan, IFS, was a COP15 Delegate from India and is the Former Secretary of the National Biodiversity Authority.

Other Elements Of The Agreement

For the first time, COP15 adopted a stand-alone target on gender equality as well as strong language on rights to land and resources of Indigenous people and local communities. It also included the  protection of Environmental Human Rights Defenders in the global agreement to protect nature.

Another contentious issue, which polarised developing and developed countries and was a subject of intense negotiations was the Digital Sequence Information (DSI) on genetic resources. Debates around genetic resources and DSI were among the most fraught at open-ended working group meetings and it was expected to be a key determining factor for achieving a deal in Montreal.  In a historic decision at COP15, Parties finally agreed to integrate the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of DSI linked to genetic resources in Goal C and Target 13. The Goal and Target state that benefit sharing from use of genetic resources needs to be substantially enhanced. In a separate decision, the parties also agreed to develop a multilateral solution for benefit-sharing for DSI. However, there is much work that Parties need to do regarding modalities for benefits sharing (monetary and non-monetary) from use of DSI on genetic resources, including deciding on who will govern the fund, how the benefits will be distributed, who will contribute to the fund, trigger points for benefits sharing, etc.

A strong and effective implementation mechanism, which is transparent and allows for an assessment of national actions towards delivery of the goals and targets, is essential to avoid a repetition of the failure to meet the Aichi Targets. The framework as well as the separate decision on “mechanisms for planning, monitoring, reporting and review” has laid out the details for how the framework should be implemented, and provides guidance to Parties on how to revise their national biodiversity action plans and the national reports. The adoption of the monitoring framework, which includes headline indicators, as well as component and complementary indicators for use in national biodiversity strategies and action plans by Parties, while also aiding the global reviews, will enable effective implementation and is a big and positive step, which will hopefully enable robust and comprehensive monitoring at global and national levels.

The Path To A Nature-Positive Future – Indigenous Representation
By Rituraj Phukan

Opening Plenary at COP15. While COP15 has produced a truly ambitious final agreement, it is not legally binding. However, a monitoring framework has been set up for governments to show their progress. Photo: Rituraj Phukan.
The much-anticipated ‘Paris moment for biodiversity’ happened after four years of consultations, although the outcome left vital questions around financial pledges pending. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) has four global goals and 23 targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, besides other measures to protect vital ecosystems, but negotiators failed to reach consensus on the draft biodiversity and climate change decision.
During the deliberations, Indigenous leaders feared for their rights under the emerging global biodiversity governance, apprehensive that the 30-by-30 target could be used as a tool to take away their land under the guise of conservation. The Indigenous communities-led Primary Forest Alliance has demanded a moratorium on industrial development in primary forests across the globe.
Target 22 of the GBF will “Ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by Indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.”
Delegates further agreed that the UN Biodiversity Secretariat, with relevant organisations, will enable Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) to record, document, and transmit traditional knowledge with their free, prior, and informed consent. Further, the GBF has requested Parties to consider gender equality, intergenerational equity, human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, across implementation of biodiversity actions.
The Sustainable Critical Minerals Alliance launched at COP15 agreed to support local and Indigenous communities by respecting their respective rights and interests through engagement; promoting safe working conditions and responsible labour standards, diverse and inclusive workforces, supporting safe living conditions; and including members of Indigenous and local communities in economic benefits from mining that affects their well-being.

On March 2, 2014, climate justice activists marched to the White House in Washington DC to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. After a decade of grassroots pressure, President Biden finally revoked a key permit for the pipeline in 2021. Photo: Public Domain/Stephen Melkisethian.
Yet, the lack of consensus on the draft biodiversity and climate change decision that forced Parties to instead adopt a procedural decision, after countries of the global north persisted with nature-based solutions, which are seen as corporate-backed false solutions by some stakeholders, shows there is still a long way to go to overhaul the systematic exploitation of people and nature despite the critical need for convergence of efforts to stop runaway climate change, biodiversity loss and catastrophic ecosystems for human safety.
Rituraj Phukan is an Assam-based writer, adventurer, and naturalist working on conservation and climate action projects across the world. He is the Founder of Indigenous People’s Climate Justice Forum, the National Coordinator for Biodiversity with Climate Reality India and a member of the IUCN.

Financing Implementation Of The Agreement

Parties from the south have been very vocal in demanding enhanced finances/resources for effective implementation of the GBF. This was the elephant in the room and demanded patience and perseverance of all Parties. There was a clear recognition that unless adequate resources are made available, the framework will also fail like the Aichi Targets. After much discussion and debate on how to leverage the necessary finance from all sources, the target of mobilising at least 200 billion USD/year by 2030 from all domestic and international sources – both public and private, was agreed upon. This also includes the international financial flows of at least 30 billion USD/year by 2030 from developed to developing countries. The need for strengthening capacity-building, access to and transfer of technology, and promotion of access to innovation and technical and scientific cooperation was a key component and an ask of developing countries.

In addition, Parties committed to reduce, repurpose or eliminate subsidies harmful to nature. The target clearly mentions that the negative incentives would also be substantially and progressively reduced by at least 500 billion USD/year by 2030, while scaling up the positive incentives for nature. This also was a contentious target as few developed countries were initially opposed to the target but then finally agreed.

A positive step was to request the Global Environment Facility to establish a Special Trust Fund in 2023 to support the implementation of the Framework and complement existing support and scale up financing for timely implementation and flow of funds will also help the roll out of GBF at the national level.

Women And Biodiversity at COP15
By Shruti Ajit

As the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted in the wee hours on December 18, 2022, it was a monumental moment for women and girls all over the world. For the first time within the biodiversity context, we have a stand-alone target on gender i.e., Target 23. With multiple discussions that spanned over two years, the target addressing tenurial rights of women, their full and effective participation and equal access to land and natural resources, aims to recognise the role of women and girls in the conservation and protection of biodiversity.
Along with the GBF, the Gender Plan of Action (GPA) was also adopted.  Mainstreaming gender within the CBD was first discussed in 2008, after which the first GPA 2015-2020 was finalised. However, during a review in 2018, it was found that there has been a gap in the implementation of the GPA or having a gender responsive approach within the national context through the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). It was recommended to address the gaps within the GBF. The GPA, now seen in consonance with Target 23, will also ensure that gender considerations are not just limited to one aspect of the overall framework and will urge Parties to address gender gaps within the larger context of biodiversity conservation, which includes resource mobilisation for building capacities of women and girls, financial mechanisms such as gender budgeting, gender disaggregated data, etc.

For the first time within the biodiversity context, the tenurial rights of women, their full and effective participation and equal access to land and natural resources, was included as a key target. This will ensure that the role of women and girls in the conservation and protection of biodiversity is recognised.
India’s 6th National Report on the implementation of NBSAPs outlines gender mainstreaming through measures such as ensuring reservations of a third of the seats for women in key decision-making institutions at various levels with some states increasing this to 50 per cent (for e.g. BMCs). Gender Budgeting has also been institutionalised within 13 states so far. There has also been work done to build capacities and awareness of women, youth and local communities. However, we have a long way to go until the role of women and girls is adequately addressed. This includes tenure rights for women to be included in laws and policies related to land rights and tenure, more qualitative documentation of the role of women within biodiversity conservation and publicly available gender disaggregated data that allows for experts and the public especially women and girls, to effectively intervene within the larger implementation of NBSAPs.
Shruti Ajit is the Programme Officer for Women4Biodiversity and has been working on documentation and advocacy around community based conservation initiatives and the role of women in conservation.

Developing Country Concerns Addressed, But Gaps Remain

Concerns of Parties from Asia, especially South Asia, such as ecological connectivity, addressing human-wildlife conflict, mitigating climate impacts and meeting people’s needs have been addressed in the Framework. Regions like Africa and Latin America managed to often negotiate as a block, which was a good strategy. However, the Asia Pacific region was an exception with developed countries like Japan, small island countries like Maldives and developing countries like India, all of which have very diverse needs and ambitions. Perhaps, the time has come for sub regions like South Asia to come together for crucial issues and negotiate as a block.

The issues highlighted above are by no means exhaustive. There are some targets, which will be difficult to measure and do not have the required ambition, but we hope that all countries and other players will internalise the urgency of halting and reversing nature loss and deliver these commitments.

Youth At COP15
By Shruthi Kottillil

CBD COP15 was an important milestone as five members of the India chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN, Indian Youth Biodiversity Network) were able to attend and participate. Photo Courtesy: Shruti Ajith.
India accounts for a fifth of the world’s youth population (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 2021) and yet in biodiversity conservation youth are rarely given a voice in decision making. This is crucial as biodiversity and nature conservation are areas where youth are actively engaged both in a professional and personal capacity. CBD COP15 was an important milestone as five members of the India chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN, Indian Youth Biodiversity Network) were able to attend with three also representing GYBN. Sudha Kottillil, Pakhi Das and I, now the coordinators of IYBN, organised an Indian Youth side event, where state coordinators presented their work, and actively engaged with the Indian delegation, who were appreciative and supportive of the youth action plans. Kolan Bharath Reddy and Shruti Ajit, now in advisory roles and members, helped bring in state coordinators and partners who are doing effective on-ground work. The experience was exciting and overwhelming with several parallel events from negotiations, side events, and lobbying to advocacy. It was a privilege to be a part of such a historic moment as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) will replace the Aichi Targets.
Although the adoption garnered differing opinions, it was a landmark in that explicit references to youth, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, girls and children continue to remain in Target 22. This will go a long way in the implementation wherein youth are recognised as stakeholders and contributors to nature protection and conservation. This is further strengthened by explicit references to protecting the human rights of environmental defenders.

CBD COP15 was an important milestone as five members of the India chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN, Indian Youth Biodiversity Network) were able to attend and participate. Photo Courtesy: Pakhi Das.
With a new numeric now accepted for protecting and restoring 30 per cent of forests, inland/fresh coastal/marine waters, and degraded ecosystems, respectively, the spotlight will be on how effectively it is implemented. The only concern is that the numeric goal should not undermine the qualitative aspects of how it is going to be achieved. With the financial mechanism receiving backlash, we will have to wait and see how the implementation of the GBF progresses and what steps are taken during the intersessional meetings.
Shruthi Kottillil is a researcher and ecologist working on wildlife conservation. She is a member of GYBN and one of the coordinators of the India chapter, IYBN.

Nature Now Has A Fighting Chance

The Kunming-Montreal GBF is critical as it provides a package deal and acknowledges the fact that protecting nature needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders. It has recognised the role of all stakeholders especially Indigenous peoples and local communities, women and the private sector for nature conservation. It promises a much stronger means of implementation mechanism, aims to mobilise more funds to conserve nature, and has enhanced the sharing of benefits in a fair and equitable manner from use of all forms of genetic resources.

The framework is not flawless, but it gives nature a fighting chance. All of us now need to transform it into actions, which can effectively implement the asks of the framework and rectify the relationship between people and planet. The time has come to give nature a chance to enhance the free services it provides to humanity. We need to respect nature and learn to live in harmony with it.

Vishaish Uppal is Director, Governance, Law and Policy, WWF India; Aparna K. is Programme Officer, Governance, Law and Policy, WWF India.

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