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Nairobi: Global Deal to Halt Biodiversity Loss Dissolves Into Disagreements

Nairobi: Global Deal to Halt Biodiversity Loss Dissolves Into Disagreements

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  • Last week, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity concluded their meeting of the open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
  • Before the beginning of the discussions on June 21, world leaders had expected the meeting of the GBF would birth better consensus on the framework’s underlying document.
  • But by the last day of the conference, the delegates had agreed on only two targets out of 23 – disappointment over which was deepened by the Aichi targets having lapsed in 2020.

Nairobi: Last week, amidst the lush green surroundings and a cacophony of birdsong at the UN Environment Programme building in Kenya’s capital, representatives of 196 countries met to discuss the protection of Earth’s biodiversity in the climate crisis era.

After six days of intense discussions, negotiations, agreements and the inevitable tension, the parties finally concluded the fourth meeting of the open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – with disappointingly limited success.

Before the beginning of the discussions on June 21, world leaders had expected the fourth meeting of the GBF would birth better consensus on the framework’s underlying document – which would guide governments on steps to protect their biodiversity. But by the last day of the conference, June 26, the delegates were in agreement on only two targets out of the 23.

The disappointment was deepened by the fact that the Aichi targets had lapsed in 2020. These were a set of global conservation targets that parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity had adopted at a conference in Aichi, Japan, in 2010.

According to many participants of the Nairobi meeting, including Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, “the progress at the convention was painstakingly slow,” with many disagreements and conflict between national delegates.

The  Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (a.k.a. IPBES) has highlighted in many of its agenda-setting biodiversity reports that species loss driven by human activity is irreplaceable and that the resulting decline in biodiversity poses a generational threat to humans.

In this regard, the GBF is an instrument designed to revive species loss and reconceive the Aichi targets in the post-2020 period. For example, the GBF includes a framework to increase the coverage of terrestrial and marine protected areas, introduce better regulations and policies for sustainable development, and protect biodiverse species.

The two targets that the delegates did agree on – technically called a resolution of bracket – were Target 19.2, to strengthen capacity-building efforts and development, and Target 12, on green and blue spaces in urban and densely populated areas.

Ahead of the meeting, the proposed GBF was broken down into individual parts and each part was put up for discussion between six contact groups, each led by two representatives – one from a ‘developing’ country and another from a ‘developed’ one. For example, contact group 1 was co-led by India’s Vinod Mathur and Norbert Baerlocher of Switzerland; it addressed ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, along with a group of representatives from a few other countries.

Some brackets were resolved, while the debates that raged were focused on defining numerical targets for protected areas.

Contact group 2 discussed targets relevant to reducing threats to biodiversity, including limiting pollution from every source and the union of ecosystems and human health. Contact group 3 examined issues of sustainable use and benefit-sharing. Contact group 4 deliberated on targets related to tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming, including traditional knowledge, innovation and practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Contact group 5 delved into digital sequence information and contact group 6 worked on issues of sustainable development goals and theory of change (according to which climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss shouldn’t be dealt with separately but together).

Aside from delegates from 198 countries, some 150 civil society groups also participated in the talks. Most of them demanded that governments adopt a rights-based approach on the utilisation of genetic and biological resources and redefine development to include the goals of climate adaptation and mitigation.

For example, Swetha Stotra Bhashyam, a member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, said, “We need transformative social change to deal with the biodiversity loss and to move towards sustainable development.” She also stressed on a need to ‘unlearn’ current development practices and relearn from local communities as to sustainable and content living.

“Before any development project, we should ask, who will be most benefited by a development,” she said.

Many of the issues in the GBF still pending resolution and consensus are related to access to the resources, and to the profits from commercialising them, for the Indeginous and local people that protected those resources.

Thanks to advances in biotechnology, we no longer need to have physical access to, say, plants. Instead, in order to extract their genetic value, we can simply use their digitised genetic information. The flip side of this is that information could flow so freely as to overlook or exclude the stewards of these plants from benefit-sharing.

As a result, corporations could reap all the profits even as they depend on, without contributing to, the traditional knowledge of Indigenous and local people.

“It’s not that Indegenious communities do not want mainstream development,” Jennifer Tauli Corpuz, of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, said. “But it should not interfere with how the communities have been living with nature.”

Then there were the disagreements over names, like ‘ecosystem-based services’, ‘nature-based solutions’ and ‘productivity’; some parties also argued over removing the word ‘pesticide’ from the GBF text.

Another major issue was the framework’s targets to remove agricultural subsidies worth over $500 billion that enable the disruption of ecological biodiversity. In this regard, delegates from developing countries, including India, distinguished between “harmful” and “perverse” subsidies, in the words of Vinod Mathur, chairperson of India’s National Biodiversity Authority.

“Countries like India should be cautious while discussing the issues on agriculture and subsidy,” Mathur – who represented India at the meeting – told The Wire Science.

“In a developing country like India, farmers are marginalised and disadvantaged. They need both social and economical support,” he added. This is why, according to Mathur, India prefers to regulate or repurpose subsidies instead of letting the GBF propose actions like ‘eliminate’.

The parties deliberated on redirecting the $500 billion in subsidies and instead investing only 1% of the annual global GDP. However, they couldn’t reach consensus on the final numbers. Developing countries expected to receive $10 billion every year from developed countries and an increase to $200 billion from private and public sources per year. This said, 29 countries did promise to deliver $5.33 billion in finance in the next four years.

This story was produced as part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s fourth Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Framework, led by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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