Latest UN draft on biodiversity targets lacks ambition: WWF

Deforestation in Mambasa territory of Ituri Province, Congo, 18 October 2020. (Credit: Keystone/EPA-EFE/Hugh Kinsella Cunningham)

A Proposed text for a Paris climate-like deal for biodiversity has failed to impress the global organisation on wildlife protection.

The latest version of a global agreement to protect nature was revealed on Monday but it did not meet expectations, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which has been following negotiations closely.

The text, drafted under the auspices of the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), sets a number of targets for 2030, including to protect 30 per cent of all water and land areas, and reduce the risk of extinction of species by half.

It also proposes to ramp up financial resources to achieve the targets by $200bn per year and cut harmful subsidies by $500bn per year, eliminate the discharge of plastic waste and cut pesticide use by two thirds.

“The post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will allow diverse stakeholders to work together to achieve important milestones by 2030 and then 2050 to ensure the balance with nature is restored,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, CBD executive secretary, unveiling the document at an online press conference.

The text still has another round of consultations to go in August, before final negotiations at the next Biodiversity Summit. While the summit was originally due to take place in October in Kunming, China, there are serious talks of pushing it to next year.

Need for more ambition. However commendable efforts are, the text as a whole lacks ambition, according to the WWF. The framework should aspire to “reverse nature loss and become nature positive by 2030”, much like the Paris climate agreement set a 1.5ºC limit to the rise in temperatures. “The longer we wait, the more irreversible the damage will be,”  Guido Broekhoven, head of policy research and development at WWF told Geneva Solutions.

On the extinction of species, the document sets a target to cut the rate of actual extinction by 10 per cent and to halve the overall risk of extinction. For Broekhoven, “it should be a priority to halt any further human induced species extinction rather than tinkering with the extinction rate or the extinction risk”.

Currently, over one million animal and plant species are at risk of being wiped out, many of them within the coming decades.

The WWF has also called for a goal to halve the global production and consumption footprint. “The causes of biodiversity loss, and the sectors that drive that biodiversity loss” need to be addressed, he noted.

The CBD asks that all businesses assess their impact on biodiversity and slash it by half. However, sectors like fisheries, forestry infrastructure and agriculture which are causing enormous damage to the planet’s health by disrupting ecosystems, are not mentioned specifically.

“By identifying these types of sectors, it is much clearer for them to know that they are implicated and by articulating specific actions that these sectors can undertake, it is much clearer to know for them what they need to do,” he said. “And these are sectors that are outside the environment sector, so it is really important that that framework speaks to these other sectors.”

Aichi never again. Broekhoven said that the WWF was “disappointed” regarding discussion on implementation. “You can have very strong and ambitious goals and targets, but if they're not being implemented or not being achieved, it doesn't help,” he said, citing the example of the CBD’s previous biodiversity targets, which the world failed to meet by 2020 as promised.

An implementation mechanism, according to Broekhoven, should help countries translate the principles into measures that they can apply nationally and monitor their progress.

What’s more, “some of these critical decisions on the implementation mechanism might be deferred to a decision at Cop16 rather than Cop15, which means that strong implementation monitoring, we'll be kicking in only much later,” he warned.

Difficult conditions. The framework has been under negotiations since 2019, with meetings since February 2020 having to be held virtually due to the Covid pandemic.

This, according to Broekhoven, can partly explain why the framework lacks a greater level of ambition. “Some of the main stumbling blocks, divisions, and differences of opinions can only be overcome in physical meetings, so I think the current context hasn't helped to create consensus and to create greater understanding of the level of ambition that is necessary,” he said.

“This is the first time that a first comprehensive draft is being presented, so parties have not really had an opportunity to negotiate some of these points,” he said.

Postponing the summit to next year would give countries a chance to have another round of physical discussions, he argued, and address many of the points that have been poorly included or entirely left out, such as the links between nature and pandemics, and the environmental impact of food systems and the recognition of the human right to a healthy environment.

“We are certainly hopeful that the parties will be able to agree on an ambitious framework, but obviously that still remains to be seen,” he said.