By Vishaish Uppal and Aparna K.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.