Biodiversity Conference Opens with Signs of Renewed Commitment

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15) convened in a mostly virtual format to advance negotiations on the global biodiversity framework for the post-2020 period. A second, in-person part of COP 15 is planned to take place in Kunming, China in May 2022.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) describes these gatherings as “not just another international environmental conference” given the present crisis because we are losing biodiversity faster than ever before in human history, which will have “profound consequences in human societies and will pose an existential threat to future generations.” The ENB meeting summary reports the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) and its expected adoption in Kunming must provide a path to rebuild a mutually beneficial relationship between nature and people.

At the first part of the Conference, which took place virtually from 11-15 October 2021, leaders adopted the Kunming Declaration. In the Declaration, leaders say putting biodiversity on a path to recovery is a defining challenge of this decade. It emphasizes that biodiversity underpins human and planetary wellbeing, economic growth, and sustainable development. It also asserts that the drivers of change are largely the same across biodiversity loss, climate change, land degradation and desertification, ocean degradation, and pollution. The Declaration also notes the call from many countries for a 30-by-30 target (conserving 30% of Earth’s land and sea areas by 2030). Leaders commit to providing the necessary means of implementation for an effective GBF, as well as mechanisms for monitoring, reporting, and review.

The ENB reports that the two-day high-level segment of the meeting “revealed a renewed sense of commitment and urgency from Heads of State and Government, environment ministers, and other leaders.” Parties and organizations also announced commitments to step up efforts for biodiversity conservation.

Participants also expressed concern that the emphasis on conservation goals misses the needed focus on overall patterns of destruction, such as unsustainable practices of production and consumption. A focus on goals may also “create a path to failure” without accounting for the consequences of other environmental threats, such as climate change: almost no targets can be achieved by focusing on the remit of the CBD alone, said a participant. Therefore, outcomes in other ongoing negotiations (e.g. fishery subsidies under the World Trade Organization) may provide clear signals regarding the GBF’s potential overall ambition.

Another key question for the GBF is the effectiveness of its implementation, which needs to begin the day after it is adopted. For developing countries, financial resources are a primary consideration for implementation. Pledges from large economies and international organizations during the meeting provided good news, as did the signals expressed in an open letter from CEOs. But the needed amount to halt biodiversity decline is estimated at USD 700 billion annually, and “we are nowhere near” that amount according to a participant. The negotiations and decisions taken in the coming months will determine the path humanity will take over the next decade. 

The first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference comprised CBD COP 15 as well as the 10th meeting of the COP serving as the meeting of the parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CP COP/MOP 10), and the fourth meeting of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing (NP COP/MOP 4).

The second part of the Conference is scheduled to be held in person in Kunming, China, from 28 April-8 May 2022. Prior to this, meetings of the CBD’s subsidiary bodies and of the Working Group on the GBF are scheduled to take place in person in Geneva, Switzerland, from 12-28 January 2022.