The historic global agreement reached at the UN Conference to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 has had a good start. Convened in in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in December, 2022, the COP15 Agreement on a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) has raised hopes about reversing the global crisis facing the natural world.
COP15, whose theme was "Ecological Civilisation: Building a shared future for all life on earth", approved four objectives on improving the status of biodiversity, reducing species extinction, fair and appropriate sharing of benefits from access to and use of genetic resources, and means of implementation of the agreement. In addition, the plenary of the summit, which brought together some 15,000 people representing governments, non-governmental organisations, academia, international bodies and companies, agreed on 23 goals within the Global Framework, for the conservation and management of 30 per cent of terrestrial areas and 30 per cent of marine areas by 2030, in what is known in U.N. jargon as the 30×30. This includes the complete or partial restoration of at least 30 per cent of degraded terrestrial and marine ecosystems, as well as the reduction of the loss of areas of high biological importance to almost zero.
As observed by Marco Lambertini, the meeting committed countries to implement and fund ambitious global targets and national plans that can halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity, and put us on course for a nature-positive world. It is clear that by setting a target to conserve at least 30 per cent of land, fresh water and ocean globally by 2030, and restore 30 per cent of degraded land, while respecting the rights and leadership of indigenous peoples and local communities, governments appear to have chosen the correct side of the coin.
The GBF and its goals can now assist in driving our common resolve towards restoring nature. The agreement reached can be a platform for requisite action from governments, business and society and help in the required evolution towards a future with more nature, not less.
As in the case of United Nations Climate Summit (COP 27) convened in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6 to November 18 in 2022 one of the most contentious issues throughout the negotiations appears to have been related to the question of the financial package required to bolster support in conservation efforts globally, and particularly in developing countries. It was therefore a major achievement that negotiators managed to forge an agreement in principle in Montreal that could pave the way for the mobilisation of at least US Dollar 200 billion a year in natural financing by 2030. The agreement committed signatory governments towards the elimination of subsidies for fertilisers and other products and practices considered harmful for nature.
The GBF also accorded full recognition to the rights and roles of indigenous peoples and local communities. This facet was important because indigenous peoples make up just five per cent of the global population, but they safeguard 80 per cent of the world's remaining biodiversity. It was vital that their efforts were recognised in the agreement and their rights protected.
Analysts have, however, correctly indicated that one should not take the success of this agreement for granted. There is anxiety as to whether the agreed framework might be destabilised because of slow implementation and the absence of mobilisation of requisite financial support. While every country will have to increase domestic investments to support the increased ambition, it will also be important that more resources flow from the richer nations to the Global South where biodiversity is higher and means to conserve the efforts lower.
Wealthy nations do not have a good track record when it comes to delivering on promises to provide finance to support the planet, a challenge that has also hurt the fight against climate change. And individual countries are yet to make definite commitments - on finance, on ending subsidies and on other aspects of the framework.
We must understand that implementation of this agreement is vital for the whole world as nature-loss is rapidly becoming a fundamental threat to our prosperity, equality, social cohesion, health and wellbeing. It also needs to be understood that without nature's ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere we will not be able to stay below 1.5C of global warming. In this context, governments should also focus on updating their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) as soon as possible. Such plans need to clearly reveal the government's targets and promises in line with the new global framework. This will be necessary to facilitate the holding of governments accountable for the pledges they have made. One needs to remember that leaders of different countries are expecting to reconvene in four years to take stock of whether governments are on course to meet their targets.
It was not an easy task but the Agreement on Global Biodiversity Framework reached in Montreal by all parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) was to a large extent achieved because of support received from China and the CBD. After 12 days of intense negotiations over 23 targets the Parties of the Convention adopted the draft framework for biodiversity protection until 2030.
In this context it would be useful to review how the negotiations lasting for nearly two weeks approached and found some least common denominators within the Old and the New GBF.
Climate strategists have pointed out that the negotiations began on December 7 with the GBF and its 22 targets. However, on December 19, the final day of the COP, there were 23 targets in the adopted document. There were not any new additions, but Target 19 - focused on finance - was divided into two targets- Target 19 and Target 20. Consequently, Target 20 has now become Target 21 and Target 21 is now Target 22, and Target 22 is now Target 23.
The new version - finally presented by China and adopted later by all Parties - included all the crucial texts. For example, on Target 3 - widely considered as the lifeline of the GBF and equivalent to the Climate Change COP's goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees - the old text was long and somewhat vague, with too many details but no indication of action. In Target 19.1, focusing on resource mobilisation, the draft framework proposed to increase financial resources progressively and annually from all sources by reaching at least $200 billion by 2030.
Analyst Stella Paul has also noted that the eventual deal has agreed on targets and language that is richer and more action-oriented. In this regard the following has been referred to- "Ensure gender equality in the implementation of the framework through a gender-responsive approach where all women and girls have equal opportunity and capacity to contribute to the three objectives of the Convention, including by recognizing their equal rights and access to land and natural resources and their full, equitable, meaningful and informed participation and leadership at all levels of action, engagement, policy, and decision-making related to biodiversity."
There have also been some other important decisions. In addition to the GBF, the parties at COP15 have also approved a series of related agreements on the framework's implementation, including planning, monitoring, reporting, and review; resource mobilisation; helping nations to build their capacity to meet the obligations; and digital sequence information on genetic resources. Consistent with this approach, countries have been urged to share digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources - a dominant topic at COP15 - that has many commercial and non-commercial applications, including pharmaceutical product development, improved crop breeding, taxonomy, and monitoring invasive species. COP15 delegates also agreed to establish a multilateral fund for the equal sharing of benefits between providers and users of DSI within the GBF. Another big decision was to create a specific fund for biodiversity within the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) - the nodal agency that receives, channels and distributes all funds for environmental protection in the world.
It also needs to be mentioned that Jennifer Corpuz of Indigenous People's Forum for Biodiversity (IPFB), an umbrella of over 10 thousand indigenous organisations across the world, lobbying intensely for some time to ensure mainstreaming of indigenous peoples' rights in the GBF has termed the adopted document, a "good compromise" and "a good start." Corpuz has responded in this manner because the GBF - now known as "The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework"-- contains strong language on all targets that concern indigenous peoples and local communities. Environmentalists have noted that the language is very strong, especially in the areas of spatial planning (Target 1), area-based conservation (Target 3), customary sustainable use (Targets 5 and 9), traditional knowledge (Goal C, Targets 13 and 21), and participation and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities to lands, territories, and resources (Target 22).
The CBD Women's Caucus has also expressed their gratitude to various parties for their support in the adoption of a gender target (Target 23) and the adoption of the Gender Action Plan. It would be fitting to note here that the media did not forget to focus in this context how a group of women broke out in a jubilant dance - as an expression of their joy and relief after years of persuasion to include Gender as a stand-alone target in the GBF.
The agreement reached in Montreal nevertheless obligates countries to monitor and report on a large set of "headlines" and other indicators related to progress pertaining to the GBF's goals and targets every five years or less. Headline indicators will include the per cent of land and seas effectively conserved, the number of companies disclosing their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity, and many others. The GBD will then combine national information submitted by late February 2026 and late June 2029 into global trends and progress reports.
Consequently, it would be correct to agree that significant steps have been agreed upon within the paradigm. However we need to also remember that we are basing our assumptions on a tricky platform- a multilateral system.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.