by Teresa Döring
The easy part – formulating goals and setting targets – is done. Now it’s on the parties (this time) to deliver on their high-aiming promises.
In 2018, the UN Environment Programme’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report plainly laid bare that on a global scale, the international community had failed to meet any of the 2010 Aichi biodiversity targets . Biodiversity, defined as the variety of animals, plant life and ecosystems on planet Earth – “is declining faster than at any time in human history” such that we have now well and truly transgressed the biodiversity planetary boundary . Estimates put the extinction rate of genetic biodiversity at anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Such high rates threaten to destabilise the Earth system on a planetary scale .
At times, efforts for action on biodiversity appear in their infancy in comparison to action on climate change. Regular conferences, following the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, only convene every two years. The two other noteworthy international agreements prior to 2022 include the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing (2010), when the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were introduced in 2010 to further help mainstream issues of biodiversity . Whilst the United States is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, despite leaving momentarily under President Trump, the country has never ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity or its subsequent protocols .
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which was deliberated and agreed on at the Conference of Parties 15 (COP15) in December 2022, is the long-awaited post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The logistical plans regarding the development of the framework underwent drastic changes because of the circumstances surrounding Covid-19. It was initially planned as an in-person event in Kunming, China in 2020 but then turned into a two-part event due to the pandemic. The first half took place online, (based in Kunming in 2021) and the second half of the conference was relocated to Montréal, Canada, although China kept its presidency of the conference .
The Kunming-Montreal Framework stipulates four goals and 23 targets for its 2050 vision and 2030 mission. These goals are aligned with the original CBD’s three main objectives: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components and a fair and equitable share of benefits from genetic resources . The GBF additionally calls for a shared platform to exchange data, knowledge, personnel, and material. It calls for financial support for developing countries, least-developed countries and small-island developing states, pledging to close the “biodiversity finance gap of 700 billion dollars per year” (Goal D). Target 18 further calls for the phase out of subsidies deemed harmful for biodiversity . Yet, the finance aspect of the agreement is a sensitive topic. The UN’s Global Environment Facility is the main financial fund for preceding biodiversity agreements but COP15 had failed to establish a dedicated financial scheme and platform. This provoked the dismay of several parties, particularly from the African continent, for whom the financial burden has not been satisfactorily addressed .
30×30 and Indigenous Participation
The target that has received the most attention is one of the few offering concrete figures: Target 3 which realises 30×30, an initiative previously sponsored by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, and a widespread demand for COP15 . The target aims to conserve and protect 30% of land and ocean areas by 2030 which requires doubling the current percentage of protected land areas and quadrupling that of ocean territory . It also highlights the crucial role indigenous communities will play in the goals’ realisation. Indigenous peoples protect around 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity; they steward a vast majority – about 12% of the Earth’s 15% protected or ecologically sound areas . The GBF highlights indigenous efforts, knowledge, rights, and participation throughout. At the same time however, Amnesty International warns that the GBF fails to explicitly recognise Indigenous-protected territories, and Greenpeace similarly laments that the agreement lacks the necessary financial and structural tools to support indigenous leadership .
Indigenous reactions have not been unanimous which is not surprising given the heterogeneity of this group. In Canada, issues around land ownership and colonial practices have long been a source of tension for indigenous activists who staged a protest during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s opening speech at the biodiversity conference . Indigenous leaders also criticise that top-down conservation efforts, such as the establishment of new national parks, ban their presence, drive them from their land and deprive them of their rights. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chefs warns that without “full consideration of our title and rights, the 30×30 framework has all the hallmarks of green colonialism”. He also points out that although non-state actors have a chance to speak, they cannot participate in the final decision-making as only states are allowed to vote .
A “Paris moment” or all talk with little consequence?
Thus, COP15 and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework inspire an uneasy but hopeful outlook. While the GBF received praise for introducing ambitious goals, the bar of expectations which it had to overcome was a low one: a set of goals, ten-years old, which had failed on a global level. However, it does reflect the rights-based and human-centric approach to environmental action which has begun to emerge on an international scale in the last few years . It recognises and includes indigenous actors, who welcome this change but demand advanced more from the Framework: legal protection, support for indigenous practices and direct financial support. Like previous agreements, the goals and targets of the GBF are not legally binding. It instead embodies a consensus-based approach which is meant to ease its parties over the threshold of accepting the commitments. Even with this soft approach, the agreement is crippled by the non-participation of the United States and the obvious concern that there are no serious ramifications for states who fail to achieve the targets.
The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework has been called a “Paris moment” – a reference to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate action. Despite the fact that biodiversity and climate change are inextricably linked, biodiversity politics remain largely in the shadow of climate politics . As far as financial structures are concerned as well as the implementation of goals, inclusion of interest groups and global awareness and activism, much needs to be achieved in the coming decade. The most significant aspect is how much of the framework will remain on the pages of the agreement only – and which efforts states, indigenous communities, non-governmental organisations, businesses, individuals, and other institutions are turning into reality.
Ultimately, the key question is how much of the framework will actually be executed by governments, indigenous communities, NGOs, individuals and the various other relevant stakeholders and how much of it will remain only as words on a document?
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