Biodiversity talks stall as states struggle to agree on ambitious text

In 2018, the island nation of the Seychelles designated a third of its ocean waters as protected areas. One of the main global biodiversity goals under negotiations will aim to protect a third of all land and water areas. (Credit: Keystone/AP/The Ocean Agency)

Discussions revolving around the new biodiversity goals struggled to iron out some of the diverging positions and raise ambition.

Another round of talks on committing to new biodiversity targets, which will set the roadmap to curb the degradation of nature for the coming decade, is wrapping up on Friday.

The group tasked with drafting the new framework, which should be adopted at the UN biodiversity summit next year in Kunming, China, discussed some of the remaining points of contention, including financial support and creating a strong implementation mechanism, but failed to make much progress.

A first draft was presented in early July, proposing 21 urgent actions for 2030, among which protecting a third of the world’s land and water areas and halving the risk of animal and plant extinction.

The text had already drawn harsh criticism from rights organisations, which viewed it as too weak, namely for not committing to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

Read also: Latest UN draft on biodiversity targets lacks ambition: WWF

“Ambition is still too low to effectively address the nature emergency and safeguard the future of the planet and humanity,” Guido Broekhoven, head of policy research and development at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who has been closely following the discussions, told Geneva Solutions.

Some state members even suggested getting rid of the 2030 targets, merely keeping the 2050 long-term goals, a worrying trend since they “are important for defining and measuring the outcomes we need to achieve by the end of the decade”, Broekhoven noted.

Why it matters. Along with climate change and pollution, biodiversity loss has been singled out by the UN as a major threat to humans and the planet’s health. Species have declined by 68 per cent in the last 50 years, with land converted for agriculture being the main driver, according to a 2020 report by WWF.

In force since 1993, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) seeks to protect nature, make sure that it is used in a sustainable way and that the benefits from its genetic resources are shared fairly among countries.

Mid-August, China, which will soon hold the presidency of the CBD summit, confirmed rumours of the meeting being delayed for a third time due to Covid, relieving some of the pressure on talks and raising hopes that further in-person meetings could translate into a stronger text.

“Negotiations will have more time to resolve some of the sticky issues,” Broekhoven said.

What happened. During talks, several countries called for a strong implementation mechanism to be included in the framework, to avoid the Aichi targets fiasco, where goals to protect nature by 2020 were missed. Parties discussed the need to make sure that businesses depend less and reduce their impact on biodiversity, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported.

Regarding implementation, “there is still a strong gap in the current discussions but some parties have asked for more time to discuss this issue, which is a positive”, Broekhoven observed.

African countries also urged their counterparts to get serious on the money talk. The draft had proposed to ramp up financial support to developing countries to $200bn and slash $500bn per year of subsidies for harmful activities such as overfishing. A recent analysis by WWF found that reallocating that same amount of money in a year towards sustainable practices would generate 39 million jobs.

While support for biodiversity, including from the finance sector and financial institution, has been growing, concrete commitments have yet to emerge.

“It's the first time that there are numbers included in the framework so it remains to be seen what the response of parties will be to those new proposals on resource mobilisation,” Broekhoven said.

Broekhoven noted that the talks had nonetheless produced some positive signs. More states engaged in this round of talks than in previous ones, bringing “an important and needed balance to the negotiations”.

What’s next. While formal negotiations won’t take place for another eight months, a first online session will still be happening in October to get budget and procedural matters out of the way, leaving the substantial issues to be decided face to face next year.

China will officially take over the COP presidency from Egypt, giving it “a much clearer mandate to play a proactive role in the negotiations”, Broekhoven said.

But last week, expectations on Beijing’s commitment took a hit as it released a first draft of the Kunming declaration to be issued at the end of the October virtual meeting. For a high-level statement, it is lacking in ambition and continues to show many of the same gaps that the framework does, according to WWF.

“Parties must commit, in the declaration, to the development of an ambitious and transformational post-2020 [Global Biodiversity Framework], that aims to reverse biodiversity loss and achieve a nature positive world for our planet and humanity,” the wildlife organisation stated in an assessment.

Governments have until 6 September to provide feedback on the draft declaration. At a parallel high-level meeting convened by Colombia, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said: “The world is counting on an ambitious agreement that engages all stakeholders and equips us with the tools to transform our relationship with nature.”