Climate change continues to ravage the Earth’s biodiversity while little progress has been made so far in terms of environmental protection. Yet, there is hope. In December 2022, COP15 agreed to a historic deal on protecting and restoring nature, the “Global Biodiversity Framework”. In this article, Pushkin Salunkhe spells out the GBF, its promising goals and strategies, but also its pitfalls.
There is no denying that biodiversity is crucial for our planet. Food systems, oceans, air, soil, and forests – every aspect of human life is closely interconnected, and changes in these natural systems hamper the climate, as well as human life. Climate change is regarded as one of the biggest threats of current times, and, therefore, a factor that highlights the importance of maintaining biodiversity. This is why we need to look at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which concluded on 19th December 2022. The two-week summit in Montreal, Canada, was the largest biodiversity conference in a decade and led to a historic deal on protecting and restoring nature (Landon, 2022). This article aims to analyse the importance of action for conservation in the background of the recent biodiversity summit and wider climate action.
Biodiversity loss: Need for action
It is imperative to accelerate nature conservation efforts alongside reducing emissions and growth of sustainable energy. Globally, biodiversity loss is happening at unprecedented rates, with a landmark report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, 2019) warning of the accelerating rate of species extinction and the likelihood of grave impacts on people. The report mentions that seventy-five per cent of the terrestrial and sixty-six per cent of the marine environment has been ’severely altered’ to date by human actions, and up to one million species are threatened with extinction (UN, 2019). The impact of this environmental loss on human life is tremendous, including the increased risk of natural calamities. It also means a reduction in forests, which act as huge carbon sinks (Harris & Gibbs, 2021), essential to reducing carbon in the atmosphere.
COP15: success or failure? Evaluating the Global Biodiversity Framework
In response to this rapid decline of nature, what exactly did the COP15 summit achieve? Ending with a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030, COP15 resulted in the creation of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The GBF aims to address biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems, and protect indigenous rights (UNEP, 2022), guided by four goals and twenty-three targets for achievement by 2030. Goal A aims to stop human-induced extinction and reduce the extinction rate tenfold by 2050, and keeping in mind future generations, Goal B promotes the sustainable use of biodiversity (CBD, 2022). Further, Goal C emphasises the sharing of monetary and non-monetary benefits, specifically including indigenous people and local communities, while Goal D ensures smooth implementation by focusing on financial resources, capacity-building, and technical and scientific cooperation (CBD, 2022). As for the targets of the GBF, a primary focus is the “effective conservation and management of at least thirty per cent of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas, and oceans” (CBD, 2022). The agreement aims to reduce “to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity” (CBD, 2022). Aimed particularly at supporting the least developed countries, it aims to raise at least twenty billion dollars per year by 2025, and thirty billion dollars per year by 2030 (CBD, 2022). The agreement also creates a specific fund for biodiversity within the Global Environment Facility - the nodal agency that receives and distributes all funds for global environmental protection (Zamir, 2023). Furthermore, the framework makes it mandatory for countries to “monitor and report every five years or less”, increasing the accountability of the members (CBD, 2022).
Of the pressing issues of current times, climate change has been receiving increasing attention. As such, the GBF marks a new beginning for the importance of biodiversity conservation, as it delivers a much-needed framework and provisions for finance, increased cooperation, and technology sharing. This is especially commendable in the way that the GBF has accorded full recognition to the rights and roles of indigenous people and local communities – a facet of great importance as indigenous people make up just five per cent of the global population yet safeguard eighty per cent of the world's biodiversity (Zamir, 2023). That is why the implementation of the agreement is vital, as nature loss is rapidly becoming a fundamental threat to our prosperity, equality, social cohesion, health, and well-being (Zamir, 2023). As the GBF warns, “without such action, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past ten million years” (CBD, 2022). Consequently, the GBF has agreed on targets and language that are richer and more action-oriented (Zamir, 2023), which eases the difficulty of implementation and increases the chances of success. In addition to the value of its goals, an emphasis has been placed on the framework’s implementation, monitoring, and review, showing effective consideration of its practicality.
Gaining the consensus of over one hundred ninety countries on an ambitious set of goals and targets represents a giant step forward in addressing and reversing biodiversity loss. The success of COP15, however, will be decided by the longevity of the agreement and whether it meets the same fate as the 2010 Aichi biodiversity targets - which were deemed a failure due to issues in monitoring and reporting success (Dickie, 2022). As such, it is reasonable to have doubts about the implementation and monitoring of the GBF. Yet there is also anxiety as to whether the agreed framework might be destabilised due to slow implementation and the absence of mobilisation of financial support (Zamir, 2023).
Climate and biodiversity governance: can both go hand in hand?
Alongside concerns about effective implementation, conservation efforts face another challenge: the segregation of climate and biodiversity governance. Ideally, efforts to address biodiversity and climate change should be under the same management structure (Rowan & Rowan, 2023). Nature and climate crises are two sides of the same coin (Klenske, 2021); hence a common management and governance structure could facilitate more effective action. However, this is not feasible in reality. Environmental governance is fragmented across multiple agencies and subsequently requires more cooperation efforts than it should (Rowan & Rowan, 2023). Furthermore, the increasing recognition of the close relationship between climate change and nature loss has led to complex debates and policy negotiations. One of the most contentious issues in the 2022 UN Climate Summit (COP27) in Egypt appears to have been related to the question of the financial package required to bolster support in conservation efforts globally, particularly in developing countries (Zamir, 2023). An important priority in this regard is to address the substantial and chronic underfunding of global biodiversity conservation, and the existing disparities between resources allocated to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and resources allocated to biodiversity conservation (Barbier et al., 2018). The new GBF tries to address the issue of funding by aiming to mobilise, until 2030, at least two hundred billion dollars per year in domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from all sources- public and private (CBD, 2022). A promising number, the funding provision is substantially larger than the Aichi targets. However, that is hardly enough to make up the seven hundred billion dollar funding gap per year estimated by a 2019 assessment of several conservation institutes (Dickie, 2022).
Although a major concern, funding is just one obstacle in the integration of climate change and biodiversity action, with governance also of importance. Advancing the research that underpins the deployment of effective solutions to the climate change and biodiversity crises is not enough to significantly improve humanity's odds of successfully dealing with global environmental change – as for this to happen, systemic changes are required (Nature Editorials, 2021). Furthermore, a joint approach to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises requires much higher levels of integration between the biodiversity and climate change agendas, currently primarily determined by both COP conferences, which function under different levels of resources and political leverage (Pettorelli et al., 2021). The GBF tries to tackle this integration issue, as the link between climate change and nature is explicitly outlined in Target Eight of the GBF (CBD, 2022). The agreement has also spelt out that it must be implemented consistently with other international agreements, including the COP27 decision texts and the Paris Agreement (Cullen, 2023). When biodiversity loss, climate change and declining human well-being are tackled in silos, opportunities for effective, holistic design and impact are missed (Cullen, 2023). The GBF, in this regard, has also made a positive start to implementing strategies to benefit all these aspects.
The Global Biodiversity Framework, signed by almost two hundred countries, undoubtedly marks an important step in conservation efforts. Learning from past experiences, this agreement consists of ambitious targets, increased finance, improved language, and a more formalised monitoring and reporting structure. However, its implementation and nations’ compliance with the targets remains to be seen. Increased attention towards the integration of biodiversity and climate targets may prove necessary for the success of initiatives, especially considering the larger flows of finance for developing countries that they promote.
This article represents the views of contributors to STEAR's online digital publication, and not those of STEAR, which takes no institutional positions.
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