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Implementing the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to live in harmony with nature

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As the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) begins in Montreal, Canada, Birkbeck's Dr Izabela Delabre and her colleague Dr Lily Rodriguez explain why it's essential to safeguard the natural world

Working in the field to research biodiversity

A critical moment for biodiversity

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets contained in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) strategic plan 2010–2020 have not been achieved. This, plus the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic created negative consequences for biodiversity, such as habitat destruction, increased use of plastics and waste, and reduced income for conservation organisations, means the situation is grave. The pandemic also caused CBD negotiations to be delayed by two years.

However, all hope is not lost, and a new opportunity is on the horizon. The world community is currently developing an ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) to be adopted at its 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to CBD in Montreal, Canada from 7-19 December 2022.

What are some of the main debates in negotiating the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework?

Accountability for business practices

In an article published last year in Science Advances, we argued that the GBF must emphasise the need to mainstream biodiversity in business practices and ensure better governance that ensures accountability of private sector activities. It is encouraging that the draft framework recognises this, stating how large businesses and financial institutions must monitor, assess, and fully and transparently disclose their dependencies and impacts on biodiversity.

Although disclosure can help support more accountability, reporting is not an end in itself: it cannot be seen as sufficient in addressing impacts. We are therefore urging governments and other actors to put in place stronger requirements to hold businesses to account.

More fundamentally, to meaningfully address current trends in biodiversity loss, bold actions must be put in place to shift away from a narrow focus on GDP growth as a measure of ‘development’ and recognise the diverse values of biodiversity, beyond monetary values.

Food systems and waste

We are encouraged that there is more focus on food systems than in previous documents, including agriculture and fisheries, food waste and diets. In our article, we proposed that the post-2020 biodiversity framework endorses the UN Sustainable Development Goal target on global food waste (12.3), which would help to strengthen its implementation.

The draft GBF now states in Target 16, the action to “halve per capita global food waste, and substantially reduce waste generation.” It also states the need to “halve the global footprint [of diets] [of food systems] per capita”, recognising the importance of diets and consumption in driving biodiversity loss.

Nature Positive

It is important to be cautious of some of the draft framework wording: the language of “nature positive” is increasingly prevalent, used by policy-makers, practitioners and businesses. The notion that it is not enough to halt biodiversity loss, but to deliver a net gain, is welcomed.

However, it is important that this is not just the next buzzword that can be used by different actors to convey different meanings, as in the case of “net zero carbon”, which can potentially dilute real progress. Furthermore, it may be problematic to consider that “positive” actions can offset loss across geographically and ecologically disparate sites.

Finance for biodiversity

It is accepted that financial support from wealthier countries is needed to help conserve biodiversity in countries in need of support for them to deliver on their national biodiversity strategies and action plans. However, the problem of biodiversity loss is not only financial but also political, with capitalist-colonial models of extraction and dispossession persisting in global supply chains and current ‘development’ models.

Financing “biodiversity solutions” must recognise the underlying causes of biodiversity loss that are structural and entrenched in power and wealth inequalities. Financing would be ineffective if not connected to a broader political project of environmental and social justice. 

Target 18 on removing environmentally harmful subsidies could be an important leverage point for positive change in disrupting the status quo. Politically, incentives are often difficult to reform because of strong opposition from recipients and tight links with regional and international trade.

Removing the most harmful incentives and subsidies could have an important impact in weakening systems that support mono-cropping of plantation crops and unsustainable fishing practices, for example.

How can science contribute to ensuring effective implementation of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework?

It is clear that transformative change is needed to achieve the CBD’s 2050 Vision of “living in harmony with nature.” Learning from the lack of progress on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is vital that there is focus on how the GBF is implemented, to bend the curve of biodiversity loss and obtain positive biodiversity outcomes.

The Science-Policy Forum for Biodiversity

The International Union of Biological Sciences is co-convening the fifth Science-Policy Forum for Biodiversity, during the COP 15. This science-policy forum will provide space for scientists, policy- makers and other stakeholders to discuss and make recommendations on how science, technology and innovation can contribute to the effective implementation of the global biodiversity framework.

Participants will also consider the key factors for success and for scaling up action to achieve measurable impacts on biodiversity at global scales, and adopt an action agenda to build effective cooperation, increase global capacities, and scale up complementary research.

The forum will discuss cutting-edge topics to feed into the GBF, including:

Sustainability and food systems

Bending the curve of biodiversity loss will require strong action and changes in the use of biodiversity and nature. How ambitious, realistic, and measurable are the proposed goals related to food and agriculture? 

It is still unclear how food systems and other products or sustainable management of agriculture can be made more sustainable while coping with human demands, or how progress will be measured. This session will discuss how to ensure sustainable land-uses for agriculture, taking into account the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and how Target 10, goals A and B can be implemented.

Production and consumption 

How can we frame fair policies for actually achieving sustainability, zero deforestation, and other proposed targets and milestones? How best can we redirect harmful incentives towards nature-positive activities?

Valuing, measuring and reporting on ecosystem services 

Valuing ecosystem services at all levels of society will be key for the needed changes so having the appropriate and affordable tools available will be crucial for achieving the goals and targets of the GBF.

Given the multi-faceted nature of the problems and solutions to biodiversity loss, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, education and knowledge-exchange are critical to ensuring the effective and equitable implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Positive biodiversity outcomes at scale will ultimately rely on system-change, and the negotiations in Montreal are an opportunity to demonstrate real commitment to making political and social changes that are so urgently required in protecting our life-support systems.

Dr Izabela Delabre is Programme Director of the University of London’s online MSc Global Environment and Sustainability. She is a Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Birkbeck, University of London.

Dr Lily Rodriguez is is Founder/Director of Institutional Development at the non-governmental organisation, Centro de Conservación, Investigación y Manejo de Áreas Naturales in Peru.