The story so far: The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations agreement to conserve and sustainably use earth’s biodiversity, got a boost at a conference held in Montreal recently, when 188 of 196 member governments agreed on a new framework to halt the sharp and steady loss of biological species. These governments, supported by the U.S. and the Vatican, who are not party to the Convention, adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that sets out four goals for 2050, and 23 targets for 2030, to save existing biodiversity and ensure that 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine ecosystems come under effective restoration.
Why is biodiversity important?
Often called the web of life, biodiversity signifies the variety of species on earth, which are all connected and sustain the balance of ecosystems, enabling humans to coexist. They interact with the environment to perform a host of functions. The CBD states that only about 1.75 million species have so far been identified, including numerous insects, while there may be some 13 million species.
Some familiar ecosystem services rendered by diverse living forms, of which plants and animals are the most visible, include providing humans with food, fuel, fibre, shelter, building materials, air and water purification, stabilisation of climate, pollination of plants including those used in agriculture, and moderating the effects of flood, drought, extreme temperatures and wind. A disruption of these produces severe impacts such as failed agriculture, aberrant climate patterns and cascading losses of species that accelerate the degradation of earth.
According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a quarter of the plants and animals it assessed for the 2019 Global Biodiversity Outlook are threatened, which translates to about one million species facing extinction. Similarly, a review on the economics of biodiversity by Cambridge professor Partha Dasgupta commissioned by the U. K. government reported that the current model of economic growth would require 1.6 earths to maintain current lifestyles.
What does the Kunming-Montreal pact aim to achieve?
The agreement to implement the GBF was pushed through on December 18 by the Chinese conference presidency and host Canada in the face of objections from some African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Uganda. It sets out targets for 2030 on protection for degraded areas, resource mobilisation for conservation, compensation for countries that preserve biodiversity, halting human activity linked to species extinction, reducing by half the spread of invasive alien species (introduced plants and animals that affect endemic biodiversity), cutting pollution to non-harmful levels and minimising climate change impact and ocean acidification, among others.
The GBF goals and targets do not prohibit the use of biodiversity, but call for sustainable use, and a sharing of benefits from genetic resources. Target five specifically states that the use, harvesting and trade in wild species should be “sustainable, safe and legal, preventing overexploitation, minimising impacts on non-target species and ecosystems...and reducing the risk of pathogen spillover...” The GBF emphasises respect for the rights of indigenous communities that traditionally protect forests and biodiversity, and their involvement in conservation efforts. It advocates similar roles for women and local communities.
Agricultural practices also find a strong focus. Besides emphasising sustainable practices in agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry, the agreement calls upon members to adopt biodiversity-supporting methods such as agroecology and sustainable intensification. This acquires significance, since growing Genetically Modified (GM) crops is not favoured by agroecologists as they could contaminate nearby wild species of the same plants.
One target also looks at turning cities into hosts of biodiversity, by expanding the area of and improving the quality and access to urban green and blue spaces. Urban planning should also be biodiversity-inclusive, “enhancing native biodiversity, ecological connectivity and integrity, and improving human health and well-being and connection to nature.”
Earlier, the CBD had launched the Aichi biodiversity targets for 2020, which included safeguarding of all ecosystems that provide services for humanity’s survival, and the Nagoya Protocol which went into effect in 2014 to ensure sharing of biodiversity access and benefits.
What is the roadmap to 2030 and 2050?
The key aspects of the four GBF goals for 2050 deal with maintaining ecosystem integrity and health to halt extinctions, measuring and valuing ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, sharing monetary and non-monetary gains from genetic resources and digital sequencing of genetic resources with indigenous people and local communities, and raising resources for all countries to close a biodiversity finance gap of an estimated $700 billion.
Recognising the challenging nature of the goals and targets, the GBF has specific provisions on implementing and monitoring. Member nations need to submit a revised and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan in the conference to be held in 2024. Further, the parties to the CBD should submit national reports in 2026 and 2029 to help prepare global reviews. High level discussions on the progress reviews should be held in 2024 and 2026.
Countries would have to review existing laws relating to not just the environment, but areas such as industry, agriculture and land use, to ensure that the national strategy and action plan adequately protects biodiversity. For instance, business and industry, including transnational corporations would have to assess, monitor and report the risks and impacts of their operations and portfolios. They must provide information for sustainable consumption and comply with the rules on benefit-sharing. Perverse incentives that affect biodiversity should be eliminated.
Indigenous people, local communities, sub-national governments, cities and local authorities, intergovernmental organisations, multilateral environmental agreements, non-governmental organisations, women, youth, research organisations and the business and finance community have been invited to voluntarily participate in national biodiversity protection plans. There are specific indicators for countries to report their progress, as part of a transparency and reporting arrangement.
What funding arrangements are planned?
By 2030, the GBF hopes to see at least $200 billion raised per year from all sources — domestic, international, public and private — towards implementation of the national action plans. In terms of international funding, developing countries should get at least $20 billion a year by 2025 and at least $30 billion by 2030 through contributions from developed countries. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multilateral body that partners countries and agencies, has been asked to establish in 2023, and until 2030, a Special Trust Fund to support the implementation of the GBF. Complementing this, the GBF envisages that there will be access to justice and information related to biodiversity for indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women, children and youth, and persons with disabilities, and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders. The GBF is aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals, three of which directly deal with the environment and thus with biodiversity: Goal 13 on climate action, Goal 14 on life below water and Goal 15 on life on land.
What are the challenges to protecting biodiversity?
The major challenge to protecting and expanding biodiversity conservation, says Prof. Partha Dasgupta, is the use of GDP as the chief determinant of development. The economist says in the Dasgupta Review report that GDP is based on a faulty application of economics that excludes “depreciation of assets” like nature which is degraded by relentless extraction of resources. He calls for appreciation of nature, and measuring “inclusive wealth”, which captures not just financial and produced capital but also human, social and natural capital.
The UN’s effort to measure wealth more broadly through its “Inclusive Wealth” (IW) report showed in 2018 that although 135 countries did better on inclusive wealth in 2014 compared to 1990, the global GDP growth rate considerably outpaced IW: an average of 1.8% per year for IW compared to 3.4% for GDP per year during the period.
- The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations agreement to conserve and sustainably use earth’s biodiversity, got a boost at a conference held in Montreal.
- Often called the web of life, biodiversity signifies the variety of species on earth, which are all connected and sustain the balance of ecosystems, enabling humans to coexist.
- The GBF emphasises respect for the rights of indigenous communities that traditionally protect forests and biodiversity, and their involvement in conservation efforts. It advocates similar roles for women and local communities.
The writer is a Chennai-based journalist