The long road to COP15: Geneva’s chicken and egg meetings

Today’s blog is written by Georgina Chandler, Senior International Policy Officer, and Fiona Dobson, International Policy Officer, reporting back from a set of intense negotiations in Geneva.


As the latest round of detailed talks on a new global biodiversity framework come to an end in Geneva, despite welcoming some progress, we’re left feeling frustrated with the slow pace and perplexed with the lack of urgency in efforts to agree specific targets and delivery methods. There is a large gap between what was accomplished and what is still needed for the crucial final agreement at COP15, Kunming, in late summer.

Over the past two weeks, delegates from across the world have gathered to progress negotiations on the development of a new global framework for biodiversity, which will be adopted later this year at the UN Biodiversity talks (CBD COP15) in Kunming, China. This framework is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure an ambitious and transformative agreement that sets nature on the path to recovery – essential for climate action, the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the future of life on our planet.

The collective voice for ambition is growing. Over 300 organisations signed a global call to action asking governments to strengthen the first draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework so that it commits to reverse the loss of nature by 2030.

Yet this urgency has not been reflected in the preparatory negotiations in Geneva which were supposed to lay a strong foundation for COP15 later this summer.

Negotiations moved at a glacial pace, and it is hard to unpick the progress made from the mountain of work still to be done before COP. For those following the process closely, it was often frustrating and occasionally downright perplexing. This was largely due to the complexity of the issues being discussed, and that the extraordinary meeting had to tackle three (interdependent) sessions in parallel – which would normally have dedicated week-long meetings of their own. For example, were faced with having to discuss and try to agree indicators to measure the delivery of targets, before having even agreed the content of the targets themselves! The phrase of the Geneva meeting has been: “it’s a Chicken and Egg situation”! 


Georgina and Fiona with BirdLife colleagues during a meeting break at the UN (c) BirdLife International


What were the outcomes?

  • The 2030 Mission: This is meant to be an overarching statement guides the work of the decade. Encouragingly, there seemed to be growing consensus around a nature positive mission to reverse the loss of nature by 2030. The wording of the Mission is not a done deal yet, but we’re certainly moving in the right direction towards adopting a clear, communicable and ambitious mission which will be a crucial guiding light for the rest of the biodiversity framework.


  • Action and outcomes for species and ecosystems: Calls to change the structure of the draft framework risked losing some important species content, however NGOs and a group of champion countries fought hard for the inclusion of ambitious outcomes for species, including tackling extinctions and increasing population abundance. There’s still a way to go to ensure that the goals and targets are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, and Timebound).


  • Protected Areas: One of the areas attracting the most attention was the ‘30x30’ target – the commitment to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030. Despite a large coalition of countries behind this, the negotiations remained a challenge, with differing opinions on whether this should be a global target, or one that is applicable nationally, and how to ensure that the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities are appropriately represented and respected. The negotiations resulted in a long draft target text, with lots of brackets in it (indicating that there was not consensus). There is a lot of work to do to reach clarity and agreement on this important issue.


  • Implementation: Much of the failure of the last set of global biodiversity targets from was due to a lack of attention given to implementation and accountabitly. And yet despite this, there is a feeling that discussions on the implementation mechanism continue to lack adequate time and attention, and there is concerning amount left to iron out ahead of the COP.


  • Financing: This is one of the key areas where there has been far too little progress. As a hugely political topic, a lot hangs on whether or not enough funding is on the table to enable delivery, especially to facilitate work of developing countries. The key targets related to financing were repeatedly postponed due to lack of time, and when we finally had the chance to discuss them, tense negotiations went late into the night, resulting in heavily bracketed text (meaning it was without consensus).


The grind to COP15

Despite some positive steps forward, the is still a yawning gap between the deal we need to secure a nature-positive world and the current text on the table. Considering the tremendous challenges ahead, it will take both an injection of urgency, and extremely careful planning, for COP15 to achieve the deal we all need.  

In order to better pave the way for agreeing a strong framework at COP15, it is the RSPB’s opinion that:

  • Countries must rally behind a joint mission to reverse nature loss by 2030, securing a nature-positive world for all. At the Geneva sessions, we’ve seen promising support for this, and it’s become even more clear that we urgently need this to help guide and drive our efforts leading to COP15.
  • We need a clear plan to be agreed for productive work between the Geneva meetings and COP15, showing how negotiators will resolve the large number of issues that are still outstanding.
  • It is crucial that further in person meetings before COP make significant progress on the pivotal issues of accountability and financing

In the face of the catastrophic loss of nature, we urgently need governments, including the UK, to step up to the enormous challenges at hand. We must point to the successes of the Geneva sessions, such as the growing support for a nature-positive mission to reverse the loss of nature by 2030, and now must agree a clear way forward with renewed momentum for tackling the biodiversity crisis.


Watch this space

As we continue on the long road to COP15, we’ll be reporting out on progress as we put pressure on the global process, and on the UK government to show leadership and drive ambition.

 Fiona and Georgina at the United Nations in Geneva (c) Fiona Dobson

Further reading 

You can read our joint statement on the talks here:

Check out this page on the BirdLife International website to learn more about our policy positions for the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: