COP15 – Key aims agreed for global conservation. Now for the implementation

The Montreal-Kunming conference produced a clutch of headline objectives for the Global Biodiversity Framework on 19th December. They follow on from the targets set in Aichi for 2011-2020..

The emphasis now is on ensuring achievement – with 2030 as the imminent target date, aligned with Paris Agreement timelines. Strategies from the EU for biodiversity and forests could provide useful models for the route to implementation. This will occur mainly at national level through NSAPS – National Strategy and Action Plans, with all eyes on the crucial COP16 in 2024 to assess and assist progress over the next two years.  

Meanwhile Wild Europe made useful progress with its allies, particularly the Primary Forest Alliance: over one hundred NGOs have now signed the call for a Moratorium on industrial activity in primary forests [the European adaptation excludes all extractive activity], and considerable national support was gained for the importance of ‘natural ecosystems’ with ‘high integrity’ – the core of our agenda.

Landmark achievements: the objectives for saving biodiversity

A brief summary of key achievements from Montreal outlines the opportunities lying ahead, and the scale of the endeavor needed to implement these:

Counting the minutes to midnight?
  • Effective’ conservation of at least 30% land and sea areas by 2030 (Target 3) – after four years of negotiation consensus was reached among almost 200 signatory nations for a substantial increase over targets set in the Aichi agreement. This headline replicates the EU Biodiversity Strategy target. It also echoes and expands target 11 from Aichi which called for 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas. Focus is now on determining levels of protection, criteria for choice of area (Key Biodiversity Areas need priority), relevant modes of management and measures of success.
  • Halting and reversing species extinctions by 2030 and reduce risk tenfold by 2050 (Goal A), with inclusion of Red Lists on species and habitats to provide indicators. This reiterates Target 12 from Aichi. Again clear planning will be required for how this is to be achieved.
  • Have restoration “completed or underway” on at least 30% of degraded areas by 2030. This Target 2 reflects and reinforces another EU Biodiversity Strategy objective, and expands Target 15 from Aichi with its specific linkage to address of climate change.  Criteria and targets for area selection, standards and method of restoration and subsequent protection to be determined.
  • The importance of ‘natural ecosystems’ is emphasized, reducing losses of high biodiversity areas to ‘close to’ zero by 2030, and significantly expanding by 2050 (Goal A), with valuable emphasis on the importance of maintaining ‘high ecological integrity’ (Target 1) and genetic diversity. There is also much-needed citation of connectivity (Target 12). This echoes Targets 5 and 15 from Aichi.
  • Specific definitions and targets will need to be agreed, with more focus on primary ecosystems using clear criteria; it is noted that forests are only mentioned under Target 10 in relation to sustainability.
  • Links between climate change and biodiversity – are not yet agreed, though this is an urgent requirement for practical coordination between IPBES and UNFCC. The overall context here is of concern given, for example, that Target 8 which does not recognize the importance of primary ecosystem protection to address climate change – particularly the value of protecting and enhancing carbon stocks, which was specifically cited in Target 15 from Aichi. 
  • Reduction in perverse subsidies by $500 million per year (Target 18 – echoing Target 3 from Aichi) – good to have a specific and ambitious target, but again clarity will be needed for implementation purposes. It is also of concern that willingness to curb some of the most obvious perversities is compromised – eg by EU subsidies for burning forest bioenergy, a practice that worsens climate change and destroys biodiversity.
EU’S model conservation policies undermined by its catastrophic forest energy policy
  • Aims for financial support (Target 19) are specific, building significantly on the more generalized Target 20 from Aichi.  They call for mobilization of $200bn per year by 2030. Not surprisingly, sources for this are as yet only partly defined, and the crucial funding target ($30bn per year by 2030) for assistance to less developed countries – which carry a disproportionate share of biodiversity – is unambitious in relation to the scale of the task and without a defined delivery vehicle. 
  • The corresponding gap to be filled by private/corporate funding (green bonds, offsets, credits) is thus massive, underlining the urgent need to reinforce measures to prevent greenwashing: tighter controls, capacity building and much closer cooperation between conservation, finance and delivery entities in design of financial instruments, appropriate allocation, subsequent monitoring and penalty provision in the event of misappropriation.
  • The new Global Biodiversity Fund f $20 bn per year by 2025, rising to $30bn by 2030 under the Global Environmental Facility auspices is ambitious and could be highly effective – given identification and activation of appropriate sources
  • Bringing biodiversity into all policy including national accounting systems (Target 14, echoing Target 2 from Aichi) will – if achieved – help further quantify and operationalize the benefits of conservation. In particular it could widen usage of UN SEEA (System of Environmental Economic Accounting)

Requirements for assessment and disclosure of biodiversity impact in the corporate sector are a start – though performance here needs to tighten rapidly.

Equally, it would be useful to incorporate targets for awareness of the biodiversity crisis at all levels: among decision takers in particular (reflecting Target 1 from Aichi).

Like it or loath it, funding from ecosystem services will play a big role

Wild Europe focus

Along with input through its existing projects in Europe, Wild Europe will seek to support development of the GBF through focus on the following aspects:

  • Promoting the importance of primary self-managed habitats, particularly forests, to deliver GBF objectives for ‘natural ecosystems’ with ‘high integrity’ as a high cost-effective opportunity across large areas. Appropriate definition and adoption of ‘high integrity’ in particular will be crucial to ensuring adequate standards of conservation.
  • A stronger economic framework for conservation strategy, using a Gross Domestic Product context to support environmental objectives.  For example, demonstrating that inappropriate practices in the forestry sector, representing 2% of GDP globally, produce extra climate change costs for the remaining 98% of the economy.
  • Capacity building, to include greater emphasis on economic, enterprise, social and representational specialisms at all levels of operation within the conservation sector. There is no reason why ecologically rigorous standards cannot sit comfortably alongside satisfactory commercial returns where private funding is needed – given the right regulatory framework, and sufficient capacity building.
  • A more rigorous assessment system for Nature Based Solution initiatives, set to provide the bulk of conservation funding, particularly from ecosystem services. NGO participation in formulating such assessment is essential if attendant greenwashing is to be minimized; too many financial instruments are currently developed with insufficient input from conservationists, one key reason behind the need for effective capacity building.
  • Assessing potential to transfer global oversight of forest conservation from FAO to a partnership of UNEP and UNFCC. FAO needs to wake up to the economic as well as environmental importance of its role in protecting remaining natural forests as well as ensuring genuine climate and biodiversity friendly policies in managed forests. Its influential definition of deforestation (not applicable unless over 90% of an area has been clear felled) is a classic indication of an unbalanced, predominantly producer orientation.
  • Clarity of definitions: deforestation, degradation, strict protection – some of the poorly articulated concepts that are the bedrock of policy making. They urgently need clear articulation and sets of implementation criteria enabling them to be applied with high ecological standards regardless of biogeographical or cultural context. 
When is deforestation not deforestation

The route ahead for the Global Biodiversity Framework

COP 15 is characterised by several key advances in the objectives agreed. Most of the momentum for implementation of these is expected to come through individual country NBSAPs (National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans). 

For this to occur within the short timescales envisaged, focus will be needed on strong overall guidance, adequate incentives (funding, legislation), and more specific overarching targets and indicators. We need to learn from the performance of the Aichi targets.

Support from the private-corporate sector will be critical to success, begging the usual uneasy interplay between self-interest, incentives and obligation.

Bearing in mind the GBF itself is only advisory, an increasing prevalence will be needed of:

  • outright land ownership by dedicated state, NGO or community conservation interests
  • effective long-term legal protection instruments where this is not possible
  • readiness to underwrite goals with legal strictures where other forms of agreement, MOU or contract fail to provide sufficiently rigorous protection and restoration

Attendance by heads of state is the ultimate hallmark of priority, and most were absent from Montreal. Those tasked with now developing the genuine achievements of COP15 need to secure active engagement at the highest levels of decision taking.