Background to the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15)
In December 2022, all eyes were on Montreal as world leaders gathered at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference COP15 to agree on plans to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. The outcome was the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (post-2020 GBF) – an internationally agreed set of targets addressing a range of environmental challenges.
Reaching agreement was a significant hurdle, and there remain many issues to be resolved. The devil is in the detail, with exact wording heavily scrutinised and contested. This once-in-a-decade opportunity comes at a time when nature is in crisis and ambitious leadership and policy action are critical.
ALCA CEO, Dr Jody Gunn, attended COP15 alongside representatives from the Australian environment sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, and Australian businesses. A strong Australian presence at the meetings highlighted the significance of this moment and the critical response that our natural environment demands.
The Australian Government Delegation participated in the Working Group meetings to negotiate for targets that will support delivery of its recent commitments such as the national 30×30 target and zero new extinctions, and Ministerial representation occurred at the high level meetings towards the end of COP15.
Our attendance built on our consistent engagement with the federal government and more broadly in the lead-up to COP15:
In October 2021, ALCA CEO joined the global stage at the NGO Forum held in Kunming, China, and presented our voluntary Commitment on Biodiversity Conservation.
Our declaration, Recover, Restore, Redouble: the Australian Private Land Conservation Declaration to the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), was finalised following engagement at our annual conference, PLC22. It calls upon governments of the world – including the Australian Government – to adopt a range of more ambitious targets to urgently restore the world’s biodiversity.
ALCA also made three submissions to the drafting of the global framework:
- ALCA submission to the Zero Draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (February 2020)
- ALCA submission to the First Draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (August 2021)
- ALCA detailed submission to Preparation of the Australian Delegation position for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (December 2021)
COP15 took place just a few weeks after the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 in Egypt. While there is greater public awareness of the Climate Change Conference than the Biodiversity Conference, the two issues of climate and nature are closely linked. Delivery of better outcomes for nature contributes to climate change mitigation, and full delivery of the Paris Agreement is needed to achieve a nature positive world – a world where nature is visibly and measurably on the path of recovery.
Whilst at Montreal, Dr Gunn provided daily snapshots:
The COP15 Opening Ceremony has just concluded, with all speakers recognising our reliance upon nature and our shared responsibility to protect it.
- Open-ended Working Group 5 wraps up as we head to COP15:
- Three days of meetings and negotiations have concluded but without sufficient progress on some of the most important elements of the framework, with effectively 2 versions of the document remaining on the table.
- Considerable progress was made to integrate a rights-based approach into the framework. This is of particular relevance to Indigenous communities and local people, and with respect to gender-based approaches.
- The intent of the Goals remains under discussion. It is possible we could end up with aspirational goals only – we must continue to push towards including measurable outcomes so parties know where they stand by 2030.
- On sustainable use, slow progress was made. We need to see strong ambition and ambitious targets for just transitions of industry.
- Some critical issues did not receive adequate time for discussion. For example, the 30×30 aspiration and the ambition on restoration were not discussed. Nor were implementation mechanisms. These will enable parties to take stock during implementation and must be given the time needed to agree.
- There was no agreement on how to change the course of business from harming nature to investing in nature and the finance issues were not agreed and could limit the ability to ultimately agree on a framework.
- What does all this mean? As we move from the opening ceremony to the main stage for negotiations, governments from around the world must keep their eyes on the ultimate mission – to set a north star of halting and reversing nature loss for a nature positive world, and ensuring an ambitious and measurable framework that addresses the scale and urgency of the biodiversity loss we are facing.
With a rest day for working groups on Sunday – the conference opened up to a range of inspiring forums.
By Saturday 10th December, a third of all resolutions to the conference had been reviewed and approved.
While some important outcomes, including those related to Indigenous People and Local Communities and other framework elements, much of the detail in the Goals and Targets remain unresolved to this point.
After a rest for working groups on Sunday – it is expected the negotiations will (and must) ramp up this week as Ministers arrive.
“Waiting for their parents to arrive” has been a phrase I’ve heard a few times over the last 24 hours.
“Infuriating”, “slow” and “gruelling” are other words that have been referenced as hour after hour of contact meetings take place. Government officials – including our own – deliberating over every word; staying over lunch breaks to resolve the next set of challenging text; contact meetings breaking down into smaller huddles, hoping to crack a nut or resolve a tricky issue, only to come back to put on the table something that gets deliberated all over again. Feeling a breakthrough in some text, only for it to be brought to a halt by a later intervention… such have been the last few days, some might say the last few years.
As an “observer”, as my COP15 pass reminds me, this is, after a few years, challenging to watch in real life; as an official government delegate with an ambition, a hope, a desire, or a risk to mitigate, this must be high pressure. And, with the Ministers arriving in just a few days, the pressure is even higher to ensure you’ve delivered as best you can for your country, its people, and the environment on which we all rely.
What appears to be resoundingly agreed is that nature and people must thrive. Ms Elizabeth Mrema asserted at the Nature and Culture Forum, some of the agreements made to date should ensure that the joint program of work adopted for the next 10 years will ensure that both nature and culture are reflected in the implementation of the 2020 framework. But these are just some of the framework elements and more, including language in targets and resource mobilisation must be achieved if this is to be realised.
But as another day passes and another set of text gets re-worked, concerns are mounting that the task presented to the arriving ministers is not as clean as it should be – and has the potential to result in more trade-offs and ultimately the potential for a weaker framework.
Goal A, the critical goal that should set a high ambition for integrity connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems including for their protection, management and restoration, hangs in the balance. When I left the contact group this afternoon, we had at least ensured that our ultimate goal was not only going to focus on vulnerable and threatened ecosystems but the full suite of ecosystems; however, like with a number of other goals, the mid-term milestones (by 2030 specific measurable objectives) that will help us measure our progress towards 2050 were becoming harder and harder to hold onto in the text. Without measurable milestones it will be difficult to know if we are on track and drive us towards the rapid change we need.
Regarding the targets, 5 through to 14 are still in various states of agreement, target 3 will no doubt remain a trade-off play and pesticides, pollution and percentages remain hard to pin down.
The Chairs of the contact groups and targeted discussion leads have been working tirelessly to build consensus – being strict on intervention to bring in new text and moving through brackets with a required balance of humour and callous intent.
With the vastly different needs articulated from the more than 190 state parties, I do not envy the facilitators – however to get to where we need to be – compromise needs to be made, ambition put forward over detail; and resources must be brought forward to support those who will be most impacted by and responsible for its implementation.
We’re not there yet – but with the right mix of commitment and high level ambition, it is still possible to get over the line.
It must get over the line – the people on the ground and the nature they are protecting depend upon it
Companies are increasingly realising that their dependencies on and impacts to nature matter. While strong signals point towards mandatory reporting in the future, whether required or not, businesses are already moving to understand what it means for them:
- Unprecedented business interest in nature. Hundreds of businesses are on the ground, many of whom say this is their first Biodiversity COP.
- 150 financial institutions signed a statement that called for coordinated action by governments to tackle climate change and halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
- The mandatory reporting target (#15) saw business sector interventions resulting in observer applause…not everyone was pleased… time will tell where this target lands.
The Ministers arrive tomorrow for the high level segment. Tensions mount as many elements still unresolved – critical on their agenda will be resource mobilisation, digitised genetic information and implementation – hopefully their brief will also include ambition.
Tensions have risen in the last 24 hours – developing nations walked out of some negotiations, calling for resource mobilisation to support effective implementation.
Target 3 – 30×30 – is still struggling to get agreement. Recognition of the role of Indigenous People and Local Communities, the varying definitions of protection and the ultimate number 30 remain sticking points.
A few more words agreed and brackets removed… some concern about watered down targets just to get things over the line.
Minister Plibersek has arrived to begin high level negotiations. Also good to see Senators Pocock and Hansen-Young on ground at the conference. We briefed each on our key priorities and shared observations of negotiations. A few hard working days left for negotiators.
With high level negotiations underway, we hope the final Global Biodiversity Framework will:
- Drive transformational change across all of society to value nature, and recognise and respect the rights and contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
- Ensure we halt and reverse nature loss by 2030, including by protecting a representative 30% of terrestrial, inland water and coastal and marine ecosystems; and addressing the critical drivers of nature loss.
- Deliver and promote effective finance mechanisms that increase funding towards nature and decrease funding towards harmful activities; and mobilise resources to the global south.
A final draft text released – we wait to see whether it will be accepted or opened up for further negotiation – the next 12 – 24 hours remain critical. No matter the outcome, our opportunities now lie at home. It will soon be up to us!
· While the biodiversity targets give direction, critical measures and timelines to address species extinction with the urgency required remain a limiting factor.
· There are levers that will enable productive, business and finance sectors to implement transitional change – but is it enough to deliver transformational change?
· Our ultimate ambition to halt biodiversity loss, implement suitable finance and recognise rights of indigenous people and local communities may determine whether the draft is finalised.
1987: World Commission on Environment and Development promotes sustainable development
1992: Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (and Convention on Climate Change) come into effect. The CBD has 3 main objectives:
· Conservation of biodiversity
· Sustainable use of the components of biodiversity
· Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from use of genetic resources
1993: Australia ratifies the convention
2010: COP10 is held in Nagoya, Japan, and the new Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011 – 2020 is adopted. It included 20 concrete targets, known as the Aichi targets.
2022: In the 3 decades since the convention was agreed, the international community has not fully met any of the targets set.
Convention on Biological Diversity: the international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity
COP: Convention of Parties, consisting of all the governments that have ratified the convention. The COP is the convention’s ultimate authority, and it is supported by several bodies providing technical guidance and secretariat duties and information exchange.
Post-2020 global biodiversity framework: the new global biodiversity framework that will guide action on nature through to 2030. Its purpose is to ensure the protection of nature and the services nature provides for humankind.
UN Biodiversity Conference: a conference that convenes governments from around the world to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the post-2020 GBF and looks at the implementation of the protocols of the Convention on Biological Diversity.