Biodiversity talks stall again, risking a failed Cop15

While only certain species are endangered, sloth populations are increasingly threatened by habitat loss. (Credit: Unsplash/Javier Mazzeo)

With just a few months to go before the UN Biodiversity Summit, slow negotiations for a deal risk cutting it short.

Two years into negotiations and after multiple delays, negotiations for a new deal to protect nature continue to stall. Countries gathered last week in Nairobi could not resolve many of the sticking points after the last round of talks in Geneva failed to deliver.

After the Aichi targets expired in 2020, countries were meant to negotiate new commitments to protect biodiversity by 2030. But talks have been delayed for over two years now because of Covid-19 and the in-person session did not help to smooth things over.

Around one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, mainly on account of human activity, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Their demise is a threat to land and marine ecosystems that humans depend on.

Countries are expected to commit to halting and reversing biodiversity loss within the next seven years and to preserving 30 per cent of the world’s land and seas by 2030. But some countries have been holding back from what many hope will be a Paris-like agreement for nature.

“There isn't enough political will to come together around an ambitious framework and to find common ground,” said Guido Broeckhoven, head of policy, research and development at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who was in Nairobi to follow the talks.

The meeting had kicked off last Monday with high hopes following reports that the Biodiversity Summit, where ministers will finalise and strike an agreement, would be held from 5 to 17 December in Montreal instead of Kunming, amid fears of another Covid-related delay.

But over the week, delegates got bogged down in technical details, while others successfully watered down the text in some areas, according to Broekhoven. WWF accused a group of countries of “actively working to undermine the talks”, singling out Brazil. It isn’t the first time that the country, home to 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, is accused of obstructing negotiations for the biodiversity deal.

Broekhoven said that Brazil was “acting like a blocker, introducing last minute proposals and watering down ambition in general”.

The issue of finance was a particular source of contention. Countries have to reach an agreement on three components, which are supporting financially conservation efforts, eliminating and redirecting harmful subsidies for biodiversity and rechanneling financial flows from the private sector into not harming nature.

The failure to resolve financial discussions has also forced the technical but also key issue of implementation into a deadlock. The proposal on the table is for a mechanism through which countries would translate the global agreement into national goals and then report on their progress, much like the climate deal’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

“Parties feel that they cannot commit to that sort of accountability if they don't know if the resources to implement the framework will be available,” said Broekhoven.

On the positive side, countries overwhelmingly supported the inclusion of a target focusing on gender, as women are often at the forefront of the protection of nature for example as land managers but can be excluded from conservation measures.

Countries have agreed to hold three extra days of talks right before the biodiversity summit in Montreal, a risky move that could leave unresolved issues and last minute agreements to lower ambition, according to Broekhoven.

As talks wrapped up on Sunday, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity called on countries “in the next months, to vigorously engage with the text, to listen to each other and seek consensus, and to prepare the final text for adoption at Cop15.”