The COP 15 Biodiversity Conference took place in Montreal this past December from which came an agreement on a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). In the three years prior to the conference several workshops were convened to produce a draft framework using input from delegates from most of the signatory nations to the Convention on Biodiversity along with representatives from various international agencies, nongovernment organizations, Indigenous representatives, business groups, faith groups and academia.

Considering the wide variance of viewpoints as to what wording should be used for the goals and targets of the GBF, there was considerable apprehension on the convening of the Montreal conference whether final agreement of the parties to the convention could be achieved. Many representatives from the developed countries were pushing for ambitious targets to reverse global biodiversity loss and protect natural ecosystems and species. Many lesser developed nations were concerned about how financing would be arranged to implement the objectives. Indigenous groups were particularly concerned that their rights and traditional knowledge be implemented in the wording of the GBF. In the end a compromise framework was agreed to which, although not fully satisfying the objectives of many parties, contained enough elements to make positive steps forward.

The final GBF contains 4 goals to be achieved by 2050 and 23 targets to be achieved by 2030.

Many of the targets have specifically defined measures for achievement:

  • At least 30 per cent of lands, inland waters and coastal and marine areas will be protected globally. This is the 30X30 target that has been a key demand of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People with over 100 signatory nations including Canada. It goes on to state that rights of Indigenous peoples will be fully respected over their traditional territories (Target 3).
  • Effective restoration of 30% of degraded ecosystems (Target 2).
  • Reduction to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance again while respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples (Target 1).
  • Mitigation or elimination of the impacts of invasive alien species and reduction of the rates of establishment of invasive species by 50% (Target 6).
  • Encouragement of sustainable consumption, including by reducing food waste by 50% (Target 16).
  • Reduction by 50% of excess nutrients and the overall risk posed by pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals while working to eliminate pollution from plastics (Target 7).

Another significant target addressing biodiversity:

  • Halting human-induced extinctions and maintain and restore genetic diversity (Target 4).

Financial considerations were addressed in the following targets:

  • Phasing out of subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion USD per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity’s conservation and sustainable use (Target 18).
  • Substantially increasing financial resources, mobilising $200 billion per year from all sources – public and private, including $30 billion from developed to developing countries (Target 19).

Other targets without numerical quantifiers addressed issues such as: climate change; harvesting and use of wild species; sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry; urban green spaces and biosafety measures.

As a consequence of the agreement, each signing party to the convention will need to update its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to be consistent with the finalized GBF and will need to put its plan into action in the coming years.

Several separate decision documents provide for an enhanced implementation mechanism of the GBF. One of these provides guidance to parties on updating their national strategies.  Another presents a monitoring frameworkwith indicators for evaluating global progress on the agreement. Other documents deal with capacity building, financial resource mobilization and sharing of genetic digital sequence information.

Many stakeholders expressed relief that an agreement had been reached on a finalized GBF. Praise was received from many world leaders. Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault stated that the GBF “is a major win for our planet and for all of humanity, charting a new course away from the relentless destruction of habitats and species. Just as Paris produced an agreement to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in Montréal we have reached an agreement that commits to the protection of 30 percent of global land and water by 2030.” UN secretary general António Guterres said that “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature … and I urge all countries to deliver on their commitments.”

The reaction of Indigenous representatives was mixed with some groups expressing cautious optimism. The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity stated that it “celebrates the timely recognition of Indigenous peoples and local community contributions, roles, rights and responsibilities to Mother Earth in the [GBF]. We have spoken and you have heard us, let us now put those words into action.” However, a spokesperson for Amnesty International said that “While the accord contains a number of highly important environmental targets and human rights safeguards, which states will now be held accountable for, it… did not wholly incorporate Indigenous peoples’ demand for their lands and territories to be fully recognized as a category of conserved area.”

Disappointment was registered by some organizations including Business for Nature in the wording of Target 15 which encourages, rather than requires, large companies to report their impacts on biodiversity.

Many people warn that the use of the terms “nature positive” (in drafts but not appearing in the final GBF) and “nature-based solutions” (appears in Targets 8 and 11) need to be clearly defined so that they can’t be used by corporations looking to “greenwash” their operations by using these words in their marketing without taking appropriate measure to protect biodiversity. Another term to be used with great caution is “biodiversity offsetting” (referenced in Target 19) which when used inappropriately can give licence for corporations to destroy important biodiversity features such as removing forested areas and planting sterile plantations elsewhere, draining wetlands and putting in stormwater management ponds or paying into so-called “pay to slay” funds.

The fact that 196 parties to the CBD could agree at COP 15 on the wording of the many worthwhile goals and targets in the finalized GBF is very encouraging. Ultimately, however, its success will be dependent on the degree to which nations fulfil the requirements (which are not legally binding), adequate funding is provided from developed countries to those with lesser resources, Indigenous peoples rights and lands are respected, corporations are required to engage in the process and finally recognition emerges from society as a whole that healthy biodiversity on a global scale is necessary for human survival.

In order for Canada to play its part in achieving the aims of the GBF, it will need to issue a revised National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan that incorporates goals and targets with specific measures that can be practically implemented. The federal government must move beyond aspirational goals by passing binding legislation and enforcing regulations that already exist such as the Species at Risk Act. Since in our federal system, jurisdiction in many areas lies with the provinces and territories, it is crucial that they be brought on board. Public awareness and advocacy can build momentum for this to happen.

Ron Corkum is a retired environmental chemist and a member of SCAN!’s Coordinating Committee and Ontario Project Group.

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