COP15 STARTS A NEW WEEK: KEY ISSUES
COP15 is now in the thick of negotiations. Meanwhile, hundreds of people marched and protested in the streets of Montreal on Saturday, demanding an ambitious agreement to protect biodiversity. Let’s take stock of some of the main issues being discussed at COP15.
- Financing for biodiversity
- The 30×30 objective
- Subsidising activities harmful to biodiversity
- Private sector and overconsumption issues
- Invasive species
- Spatial planning
- Restoring nature
- Plastic and non-plastic pollution
- Rights of indigenous peoples
- Climate change as a cause of biodiversity loss
FINANCING FOR BIODIVERSITY
As in the climate COPs, finance is one of the thorniest issues.
Furthermore, as Elizabeth Mrema said at COP27, among the last decade’s targets was the call to double international economic flows for protecting biodiversity. Funds were allocated, but the target set was insufficient for achieving the Aichi Objectives.
Financial issues fall under Target 19 in the draft and are divided into two parts. Part I is the most highly debated one and deals with financial flows. Part II is less critical and deals with capacity building and technology transfer. At the preparatory negotiations in Nairobi in June, Part II was shared among the Parties and is currently one of the few objectives generally agreed upon. In contrast, Part I on financial flows currently envisages allocating USD 200 billion per year. This is the objective that has triggered most disagreement and has the most sections still up in the air (affecting as many as 77 points in the draft).
The Global Biodiversity Fund (GBF)
The target dedicated to financing refers to establishing a Global Biodiversity Fund (GBF) by 2023 which is to be fully operational by 2025. This is to be a dedicated mechanism providing financial resources to developing countries, but has yet to be agreed upon.
The fund was proposed by Brazil at the mid-term negotiations in Nairobi in June and the request for it was shared by the African Group and the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC). It reflects a climate-financing target and would add USD 100 billion per year more to the economic funds for climate already earmarked by developed countries for developing ones. This is a goal, let us remember, which has never yet been reached. The JUSCANZ group of developed countries and the United Kingdom opposed the fund effort. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has also stated that creating a new international funding instrument would not guarantee improvements over existing mechanisms (as we explain here). Brazil also demanded that developed countries pay ‘historic reparations’ for the ‘irreversible’ loss and damage they have caused to biodiversity.
THE 30 X 30 OBJECTIVE
One of the most talked about topics is the so-called ’30 by 30′ objective, i.e. the goal of conserving 30% of land and sea areas by 2030. The proposal was inspired by Edward O Wilson’s theory. The aim is to protect half the plant and assure humanity’s long-term survival.
At COP15, this goal is being advanced by many countries and the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HAC), an intergovernmental group of over 100 countries co-chaired by Costa Rica and France. The UK-led Global Ocean Alliance (GOA) currently aims to preserve 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. However, after the financing target, this is second most important area of lack of agreement (with 50 sections are still up in the air). Few countries have expressed outright opposition to the 30×30 target, but notable among them are China, which is presiding over COP15 , as well as Brazil and Turkey, which will preside over the COP16 in 2024. Many speak of the 30×30 objective as a potentially key target within the COP15 agreement and one that could become for biodiversity what the 1.5C° target is for climate .
However, several criticisms of it have come from non-governmental organisations, such as the Nature Conservancy. They warn that these kinds of decisions must be made through ‘thoughtful, science-based, equitable and participatory management’. A group of NGOs made up of Survival International, Amnesty International, Minority Rights Group and International and Rainforest Foundation UK have also issued a joint statement calling on countries to urgently reconsider their commitment to turning 30% of the planet into ‘Protected Areas’.
These NGOs expressed concern about the human costs of the 30×30 objective and the fact that expanding Protected Areas could cause human rights violations. It might also have other negative impacts on millions of people who are least responsible for the climate and biodiversity crisis. According to these NGOs, Protected Areas are the cornerstone within dominant, Western, conservation models. Furthermore, since 80% of the world’s biodiversity is found indigenous peoples land, they call for ecosystem conservation based on the protecting the rights of the people who live and depend on these ecosystems.
SUBSIDISING ACTIVITIES HARMFUL TO BIODIVERSITY
Another central theme is reforming subsidies going to activities that pollute or damage biodiversity. The draft agreement includes a demand to cut subsidies in these areas by at least USD 500 billion per year. This objective, however, has not yet been agreed upon.
According to UNEP, governments spend USD 500 billion to USD 1 trillion a year in subsidies on environmentally or biodiversity damaging activities such as fishing, agriculture, and fossil fuels. Furthermore, the OECD states that very few countries to date have begun to review incentives and subsidies that harm biodiversity. This would involve undertaking country-level studies to:
- define and identify the types of subsidies and other incentives harming biodiversity;
- undertake data collection; and
- assess the extent of damage to biodiversity caused by these subsidies
PRIVATE SECTOR AND OVERCONSUMPTION ISSUES
There is debate in Montreal on whether to take legal, administrative or political measures to ensure that companies and financial institutions:
- fully and transparently assess and disclose risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity throughout the value chain;
- provide consumers with the information needed to make responsible consumption choices;
- take legal responsibility for infringement, including the associated sanctions, liability and compensation for damages;
- respect human rights and comply with and report on access and benefit-sharing; and
- favour sustainable and circular production models.
There is also debate on whether to reduce consumption and production footprints by 50% by 2030. Several countries consider this a high priority target, including the EU, UK, Japan and Switzerland while China, Brazil and most developing countries oppose it. Furthermore, there has been talk of transforming food diets, but Canada may oppose any language on ‘plant-based’ diets.
The draft text discusses whether to set a target for reducing pesticide use by two thirds or at least one half, although both options are still up in the air. Several countries, however, oppose the targets for pesticide reduction or elimination, including China, India, New Zealand, Uruguay, Turkey and Mexico. However, Bolivia and the European Union support the targets. The latter has declared that it will aim for a 50% reduction in pesticide use by the end of the decade.
Remember that the use of pesticides is one of the main causes of declining insect populations in all geographical areas. The Soil Association argues that any agreement that does not include pesticides will be inadequate to reverse biodiversity loss and that clear commitments are needed to eliminate these substances.
There is debate at COP15 on whether to eliminate or reduce the impact of invasive species by reducing the rate of introduction of known or potential invasives by at least 50%. Eliminating invasive species can have transformative effects on restoring biodiversity, especially in island areas. Next year, world experts will publish a major scientific assessment on the extent of the problem.
The draft text calls for all areas to be subject to participatory and integrated spatial planning that considers biodiversity. The aims are to halt or minimise the loss of ecosystems and areas of high biodiversity importance, conserve those that are particularly difficult to restore, preserve ecosystem functions and services, and respect human and indigenous peoples rights.
In addition to expanding protected areas, COP15 has discussed whether to ensure that at least 20% or 30% or 1 billion hectares of degraded terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems be restored– equalling an area roughly the size of China.
The draft text further envisages ensuring urgent action for the recovery and conservation of species, particularly those at risk. The aim is to prevent human-induced extinction and maintain and restore genetic diversity within and among populations of native, wild and domestic species.
PLASTIC AND NON-PLASTIC POLLUTION
There have also been discussions about reducing pollution from all sources, including plastic pollution, to levels that are do not harm biodiversity and human health. World leaders agreed in March to draw up a legally binding treaty on plastic waste. The first round of negotiations concluded last week in Uruguay and the next session will take place in May 2023 in France. To avoid duplication, reference will probably be made to the current treaty in the final draft of COP15.
RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Several studies have underlined how indigenous peoples represent only 5% of the Earth’s population, but safeguard around 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.
The current draft mentions indigenous peoples 25 times and recognises their important role and contribution as custodians of biodiversity as well as partners in conservation. However, indigenous groups remain sceptical about the success of this UN Conference on Biodiversity.
CLIMATE CHANGE AS A CAUSE OF BIODIVERSITY LOSS
Minimising the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity is being discussed at COP15. The draft mentions increasing resilience through mitigation and adaptation activity, including through nature-based solutions. It also discusses whether to include a reference to the contribution that nature can make to global mitigation efforts by including a mitigation target commensurate with at least 10 giga tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030.
In conclusion, one of the crucial points of the Global Agreement being negotiated at COP15 is to develop a robust planning, reporting and review system which will also be critical for monitoring implementation.
The draft agreement thus discusses:
- providing flexibility in implementation for the developing country Parties according to their national circumstances;
- updating national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) by the time of COP16 in 2024 in light of the new global agreement under negotiation in Montreal;
- whether national reports, the main tool for reporting on progress towards the NBSAPs, should be submitted in 2025 and 2029;
- whether an overall analysis of collective ambitions should be done at COP16 and COP18 and if overall stocktaking should be done at COP17 and COP19
- whether non-state actors should be ‘encouraged’ to cooperate and complement the efforts undertaken by the parties in their NBSAPs.
It is quite normal that halfway through a negotiation things are still in play on several critical fronts. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres harshly stated at the opening, “Nature is humanity’s best friend and without nature we have nothing.” We will therefore continue to monitor and report back to you in the coming days on developments during this important negotiation up until the end.
Article by Margherita Barbieri, Climate and Advocacy volunteer
Cover photo: Life-size animal models with recorded noises are positioned in front of the UN building in Bonn, Germany, during a protest coinciding with the start of the Biodiversity Summit in Montreal. Source: Guardian