Big uncertainties hung over when the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity would be held. It had been rescheduled several times because of the pandemic. Now, it is expected to be held in August this year in the Chinese city of Kunming. The goal of COP15 is to create a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which would outline a roadmap for global action to maintain and protect biodiversity. After the round of preparatory talks in Geneva in April, parties decided to hold the next round of negotiations in Nairobi, from June 21 to 29, 2022, prior to the UN Convention. The meeting in Geneva resulted in the first agreed draft document for a post-2020 framework for nature, including goals, targets, and enabling mechanisms.
But there is still a long and stony road ahead. Despite the consensus on the main goals of the framework, disagreements are mainly regarding how to monitor the progress, finance for developing countries and divergence concerning specifics such as the reduction of nitrogen waste by 2030, among others. Leading policy makers have voiced concerns about the ambition of the GBF. As the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “At COP15, the international community will seek to agree on an ambitious global biodiversity framework with strong monitoring to measure progress on the ground in reversing nature loss. But we are not there yet, and we need to significantly narrow the gaps between Parties’ positions.”
Countries are facing several challenges impacting on policymakers’ willingness to commit. Powerful players such as the EU are trapped in the dynamic global geopolitical environment, with oil, livestock feed and grain prices soaring. The EU Commission has recently postponed the presentation of its ‘Nature protection package’ which includes a proposal to cut chemical pesticide usage and risk in half by 2030, as well as nature restoration goals aimed at reversing biodiversity loss.
Green campaigners have called on national governments to act swiftly. WWF’s Living Planet Report did not mince words: “Urgent and aligned action is essential to ensure our own survival, and the survival of all life on Earth. We must act now, with ambition commensurate with the challenge ahead, because there is no viable alternative if we aim too low.”
Biodiversity is a threat just as serious as climate change. 55% of global GDP is moderately or highly dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Studies have shown the world is on course for a biodiversity collapse:
- More than a million animal and plant species are presently endangered, with several facing extinction within decades.
- Human actions have profoundly impacted three-quarters of the land-based ecosystem and around 66 % of the marine environment.
- Plastic pollution has grown ten times since 1980, and industries throw 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other waste into the planet’s waters each year. Fertilizers in coastal ecosystems have resulted in over 400 ocean ‘dead zones,’ totalling more than 245,000 km2 – a territory larger than the UK.
Several biodiversity-related initiatives have been launched in the past years that will positively reinforce the global biodiversity framework. For instance, representatives from 175 countries decided in March 2022 to embark on an enforceable treaty to eliminate plastic waste. As a result of the UN resolution, efforts on establishing the guidelines will begin this year, with the full treaty estimated to be delivered by 2024. Another landmark initiative is the Global Ocean Alliance, which advocates for the designation of at least 30% of the world’s oceans as marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030, and the Leaders Pledge for Nature, an alliance of political leaders from 93 nations committed to combating nature loss by 2030. More initiatives are expected to be launched in the weeks preceding and during COP15.
Preserving nature also takes corporate leadership. A rising number of financial and private sector organizations are pledging to preserve the environment. For example, the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge with its 89 signatories represents a total of over €13 trillion in assets. Thus, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) has launched a draft of its nature-related risk and opportunity management and disclosure framework for consultation. The framework is to be finalized by the end of 2023 and is projected to drive a succession of new regulations and mandatory requirements. Positive performance on biodiversity will be a must.
Sweeping policy changes among governments around the world will be needed. Biodiversity regulatory frameworks are still comparatively at an early stage, but they are expected to grow substantially in the coming years. The mandatory disclosure law on biodiversity impact was introduced in France in 2021 with the implementation of ‘Article 29.’ Regarding forest-risk commodities, the UK has included due diligence requirements in the recently passed Environment Act 2021. In its draft Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, issued in February 2022, the EU suggested comprehensive due diligence obligations. All these initiatives will require favourable political winds and while geopolitics may overshadow ambitions, leadership and commitments will be key.