With just eight months left before the world is due to agree a new global framework for nature under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, my colleague Georgina Chandler reflects on her week taking part in discussions about the post-2020 agenda in Rome.   

These talks matter as the resulting agreement will become the global plan to tackle the biodiversity crisis and is the plan which ratifying parties like the UK will then need to enact (through legal targets such as those promised under the Environment Bill for England). 

Our ambition is that it will have equivalent legal teeth to the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change which, last week, was cited in the judgement against Heathrow expansion

Below, Georgina (who was part of the BirdLife International delegation) gives her assessment as to whether the talks put us on a path for an ambitious and actionable agreement in October. 

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The discussions at the meeting where based on the so-called ‘zero’ draft ‘Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’ produced by the CBD Secretariat in January 2020. This framework is intended to build on the previous ten-year plan and aims to bring about “transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the shared [CBD] vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled.”

The guiding, high level 2050 vision, supported by RSPB/BirdLife, is of a world of living in harmony with nature where: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.

The zero draft framework is the product of extensive discussions (involving RSPB/BirdLife) to date and includes five progressive goals to ensure:

  • No net loss by 2030 in the area and integrity of freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and increases of at least [20%] by 2050, ensuring ecosystem resilience;
  • The percentage of species threatened with extinction is reduced by [X%] and the abundance of species has increased on average by [X%] by 2030 and by [X%] by 2050;
  • Genetic diversity is maintained or enhanced on average by 2030, and for [90%] of species by 2050;
  • Nature provides benefits to people [the framework includes more detail on the benefits to people which have not been included within this paper for brevity];
  • The benefits shared fairly and equitably, from the use of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge have increased by [X] by 2030 and reached [X] by 2050.

The headline from the Rome meeting is that some progress has been made.

For species, the current draft framework contains a 2030 and a 2050 Goal for recovering population abundance and preventing extinctions.  We advocated alongside others that this Goal must be underpinned by a target focused on urgent actions for species over the next decade.  This is currently missing, and the addition was supported by many countries in the room.  A new target will now be considered in the next update of the draft.  This is significant progress considering it is very hard to argue for additional targets! 

Picture of tree frog in Harapan Rainforest, Indonesia courtesy of Steve Rowlands (rspb-images.com)

Targets to address the key pressures and drivers of biodiversity loss remain unclear.  This opinion was shared by several countries, who called for a greater visibility of key sectors such as agriculture and fisheries.  Discussions did not go into details and substantial questions are still unresolved.  This remains a key area for future negotiation, and one that we must get right – if we cannot clearly communicate the sector-based change we need to make globally for nature, then the framework will be considerably weaker than its predecessor.

Some of the arguments emerging over the course of the week also made new proposals of financial payments for ecosystem services and received a considerably mixed response from the countries in the room. There is no doubt that this topic will continue as an area of contention going into the negotiations on implementation in May (I.e. the “how” of the new framework rather than the “what”).

While the second meeting to negotiate the post-2020 global biodiversity framework has moved faster and made more progress than previous discussions, a lot of issues remain open and unresolved. Many of the specifics are yet to be determined, and the level of ambition (and urgency) across the framework won't become clear until subsequent meetings in May and July.

Looking ahead, what we have learned over the last ten years is that a set of agreed targets does not guarantee they will be implemented.  Nature is still in crisis, and most countries will not meet the targets they agreed to in 2010.  We must grasp this opportunity to change the way things are done.  

If the new targets are ambitious enough to tackle the ecological crisis, it will become even more important that they are underpinned by accountability and by enough capacity and resources (not just financial) to ensure all countries can fulfil their commitments.

There is serious concern that we simply don’t have enough time to cement and agree on these core elements.  

There is a lot to do and, as the joint NGO statement issued at the end of the talks indicate (see image below) we have no more time to lose.

As we move to the next round of negotiations in May, we must ensure that these discussions in Rome have been the foundation of ambition, not the ceiling.  

Georgina Chandler, @Gchandler93

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