Wildlife & Biodiversity

Can Montreal help communities: Here is what to expect from COP15

The fate of biodiversity hangs in balance as negotiators congregate in Montreal to discuss Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 05 December 2022
Photo: iStock

The much-awaited 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is scheduled to begin this week on December 7 in Montreal, Canada. The crucial meeting was delayed by two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a decision on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework needs to be taken urgently. The new framework will guide the management of nature through 2030 and beyond.

As of now, the post-2020 framework has four long-term goals related to the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. It also has 22 targets for reducing threats to biodiversity, meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing as well as for developing tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming of biodiversity by 2030. 

Read more: DTE’s coverage in the run-up to COP15 Montreal

Over the past three years, negotiations on developing the post-2020 framework have been slow due to the pandemic, leaving out numerous points of concern that need to be resolved or, at least, addressed at COP15.

Numbers in question

First, negotiators have to decide on what Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), calls “numerical values” of the targets. For example, the framework aims to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030 (also known as the 30x30 target); reduce pesticide use by half; and lower the rate of introduction of invasive species by half. These figures are in “square brackets” in the draft Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which means they have not been agreed upon by negotiating countries.

The 30x30 target is considered ambitious, given that the world did not even fully meet Aichi target 11 for the conservation of 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Only 17 per cent of land and 8 per cent of the ocean are protected currently, according to the UN Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Protected Planet Report 2020.

The call for 30x30 began with a report published in the journal Science Advances in 2019. The study, led by researchers from the United States-based health and environmental non-profit Resolve, identifies regions with high and moderate potential to meet the 30x30 goal. However, many of these areas lie in countries that are yet to join the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, an intergovernmental group focused on protecting biodiversity. 

More than 100 countries are part of this group, but biodiversity-rich nations like Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina in Latin America; South Africa, Namibia and Cameroon in Africa; China, Russia and Vietnam in Asia have not joined. The 30x30 target could give way to “land grabbing” in biodiversity-rich areas. 

COP15 Montreal: Asia must speed up its protected area coverage 6 times to meet 30X30 goal

While launching a campaign against the target on April 22, 2021, London-based human rights non-profit Survival International said it would take away land and livelihoods from 300 million people, many of whom belong to tribal and indigenous communities. 

“Protection” of land reduces access for communities. The Kani tribe of Kerala, for instance, could not benefit from the arogyapacha plant — known for its energising properties — that grew in their region, despite an agreement in the 1990s to sell it to an ayurvedic manufacturer in Tamil Nadu. Since the plant grew in a “protected” area, the people were not allowed to transport it. 

Despite these concerns, the 30x30 target is likely to go through as it already has the support of the members of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, Mrema pointed out at a November 10 press meet. She emphasised that the negotiators would need to put in place safeguards that include rights of indigenous people. 

Financial woes

The second concern is the lack of funds. The Global Environment Facility, set up in 1991 to fund biodiversity protection, nature restoration, pollution reduction and climate change response in developing countries, promised in June to provide $5.33 billion (more than Rs 437 thousand crore) over the next four years. This is 30 per cent more than the amount received in the last four years, but a pittance compared to funds needed: $200 billion till 2030 from all sources, as per CBD. 

The 22-member “like-minded group of developing countries on biodiversity and development”, which includes India, wants developed countries to provide at least $100 billion annually over and above funds committed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But the developed world is reluctant. At the open-ended working group meeting on the post-2020 framework in Nairobi, Kenya in June 2022, the developed countries made it clear that it is not interested in following the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”. CBD considers this principle as the obligation of developed nations to provide financial resources to help developing countries meet their commitments. 

They instead propose using nature-based solutions, biodiversity offsets and carbon credits to finance conservation. These would be discussed at the next working group meeting this December ahead of COP15, as well as at the conference.

Resource benefits 

Then there is the issue of digital sequence information or genetic data of biological resources. Each country has sovereign rights over its genetic resources, but the free availability of their genetic data undervalues the resources and traditional knowledge, according to CBD. 

At the working group meeting in June, African countries said they would delay finalisation of the post-2020 framework unless a suitable solution is identified to share benefits arising from the use of genetic sequences.

What is of concern is that outside of discussions on digital sequence information, the issue of access and benefit-sharing is missing from the biodiversity discourse. “There is frustration that this system has not worked as well as it should,” David Cooper, deputy executive secretary, CBD, said at a press meeting on November 10 in response to a question by Down To Earth

Road to COP15 Montreal: Kenya’s local communities have had limited benefits from their natural resources; here is why

“We have seen benefits in non-monetary terms. We have seen collaborations between developed and developing countries in terms of research, but we have not seen monetary benefits as much as negotiators of the Nagoya Protocol had expected,” he added. The Nagoya Protocol is a legal framework under CBD that aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources with the communities in a fair and equitable way.

These issues and many others would need to be resolved over the next 15 days if the world wants to put a strong framework for protecting biodiversity in the coming years. Over the last three years, unfortunately, discussions have failed to resolve issues and negotiations will begin with a document that is riddled with square brackets denoting disagreements. 

This is the first of a four-part series on COP15 Montreal summit. It first appeared in the 1-15 December, 2022 print edition of Down To Earth

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