Stockholm (NordSIP) – COP15, the 15th conference of the parties to the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) concluded in the early hours of the morning of Monday 19th December. With the run-up to the conference having been punctuated by a series of disappointing preparatory working group sessions, there was great relief that COP15 finally managed to produce the largest area-based commitment to biodiversity conservation in history.
The aim of COP15 had been to emulate the 2016 Paris climate agreement and its catch-all, easy-to-communicate target of 1.5 degrees. The biodiversity equivalent that has now been agreed by more than 190 countries is known as 30×30, which translates as a goal to protect 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “It is very positive that we have both measurable targets, i.e. protecting 30% of global terrestrial and marine areas, and restoring 30% of degraded ecosystems as well as a mechanism to finance their implementation with the Global Biodiversity Fund.”
Deal pushed through at the Midnight Hour
There was some controversy at the final hour, when Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister and the COP15 president appeared to force through the agreement despite remaining objections from several countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC is one of the so-called “big three” rainforest nations, the others being Brazil and Indonesia. However, by Monday evening it appeared that an apology from the Chinese president, encouragement from Brazil and some reassurance that remaining funding concerns would be addressed were enough for the DRC to withdraw its objection to the agreement.
The fact that an agreement was reached should be a cause for celebration. COP15 was billed by the United Nations as the last chance for the world to begin the reversal of the “age of extinction.” Nevertheless, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. Many developing nations had campaigned for the creation of a new dedicated conservation fund, but it was decided instead to increase funding within the existing Global Environment Facility (GEF). As well as new capital, the deal also targets the reform of environmentally damaging state subsidies, which are estimated to exceed USD 500 billion. In another crucial achievement, the COP15 agreement also explicitly states the need for indigenous people to be consulted and fully involved in any proposed conservation or restoration initiatives.
Financial markets must be part of the solution
The key role of institutional investors has also been cemented in the agreement, with Goal D of the four overarching goals and underlying target #14 both explicitly targeting the integration of biodiversity and nature-related values into all aspects of financial markets. The challenge of translating the sheer diversity of nature into measurable financial values remains daunting, as well as the creation of mechanisms to unblock the capital needed to fill the vast biodiversity funding gap. The concern is that while high-level headline goals have been agreed, there are no legally binding targets to support them. Nevertheless, participating nations will still have to report the progress of their national biodiversity plans, along the lines of the climate related Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
A positive note to end a difficult 2022
Providing the hard work and international collaboration continue, it is important at this time to focus on the positive outcomes from COP15. Bringing the United States into the CBD would be a major step forward, along with a much greater focus by all parties on the marine environment, which represents 95% of the planet’s biosphere but has been inexplicably overlooked so far. There are only two instances of the word “ocean” in the COP15 agreement.
Reacting to the announcement of the COP15 deal, Claire Shine, CEO of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) cautiously welcomed the agreement: ““despite its flaws, COP15 is a turning point for humanity to forge a new relationship with nature. The fact we have managed to secure the ambition to halt and reverse biodiversity loss is testament to the clarity with which all nations understand the unprecedented challenge facing the planet. We believe this cornerstone agreement can and must herald a new era of collaborative leadership and action to restore the health, quality and abundance of nature globally while placing indigenous peoples and local communities at the heart of this transformation.
“Key to the significance of COP15 has been the presence of progressive businesses and financial institutions, signalling the vital relationship between a thriving natural environment and our ability to maintain stable global and national economies. Much of what businesses have called for at Montreal was ahead of the political curve, urging governments and multilateral organisations to adopt bolder targets to drive the policies needed to accelerate and incentivise business action. However, for every gain made at COP15 there is a gap to fill. We still need a measurable bar for nature that is at least as ambitious as our targets for climate change. The real work to secure planetary health and human security is only beginning.”