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Calls for leadership on biodiversity deal

Alistair Walsh
March 29, 2022

With humans facing an existential crisis from biodiversity loss, countries are attempting to strike an agreement along the lines of the Paris climate pact. But the long-delayed process needs political leadership.

File photo taken on May 17, 2018 shows Francois' leaf monkeys in the Mayanghe National Nature Reserve in Guizhou Province, southwest China.
Another round of talks have been announced for Nairobi later this yearImage: Yang Wenbin/Xinhua/picture alliance

Two weeks of talks that were meant to prepare for a global accord on reversing the destruction of biodiversity have led to just minor steps forward, as the sessions closed on Tuesday.

Although there was some success at the Geneva talks, observers are now calling for the same political leadership that was seen in the run-up to the Paris accord on climate change to breathe urgency into the negotiations.

"This could be a really historic moment in many ways that we've been waiting for for a long time," Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, told DW from Geneva.

"In the last two weeks, I think we made a significant step forward on a number of very important elements of the biodiversity framework," Lambertini said. "But much progress needs to be done."

"As we move forward, political leadership is going to be critical to resolve some of the stickiest points and to drive consensus. And so we are calling upon heads of states, prime ministers and ministers of environment to drive that leadership," Lambertini said — calls that were echoed by Greenpeace.

Another pre-Kunming session announced

The talks were supposed to help solidify the draft text of a new global biodiversity framework under the auspices of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The text needs to be ready enough for final negotiations at COP15 in Kunming in China later this year.

But, after another round of delayed talks, the document is a messy mix of so-called bracketed texts, where multiple options for paragraphs are presented — sometimes with completely disparate meanings — to be settled on at a later date. It's still messy enough that another round of pre-Kunming talks has been announced for Nairobi to knock the text into shape for the final round.

David Cooper, the deputy executive secretary of the CBD, told DW that the text was indeed messy, but that this was a critical part of the process and a sign of progress.

"On the good side, there are all of the elements that the different parties would like to see in these goals and targets," he said between sessions.

"Of course, there have been times in the discussions when there's been difficulties," he said. "And we have to acknowledge that countries will have different interests, even if they all have a common interest in addressing the challenge of the biodiversity crisis. So, generally, I think countries have been quite constructive in trying to reconcile their differences."

 An elephant-themed video clip is seen on screen during the opening ceremony of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Oct. 11, 2021
Delegates will return to Kunming in the third quarter of 2022 after multiple delaysImage: Li Xin/Xinhua/picture alliance

2030 target a win for nature

Lambertini said one of the major wins of this conference was the inclusion of a 2030 target within the draft framework.

"The most impressive thing and the most exciting thing ... is we now have in the draft agreement: a 'Mission 2030,'" he said. "There were some countries asking for a 'Vision 2050' only. And, frankly, with the urgency around, that was a joke to be very blunt."

"So we pushed very hard," he said, "and, finally, we got the agreement on a 'Mission 2030' that actually embraces a really ambitious global goal for nature."

'Not much progress'

From Geneva, Greenpeace biodiversity strategist An Lambrechts said the talks were disappointing.

"We had expected it to be complex," she said. But, she added, it was "disappointing to see that it remained complex until the end and that there's not much progress."

To her relief, the messy text still contains promising wording on some of the issues that Greenpeace considers critical, including Indigenous peoples and community rights. However, the continued inclusion of some of the more unambitious bracketed texts opens up the prospect of a watered-down agreement in Kunming.

UN-Klimakonferenz COP26 in Glasgow
Observers have called for the same level of political backing that climate change has seen Image: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Major hurdles on financing and monitoring

The agreement still faces major hurdles, the most-significant of which are how any action will be funded and how the achievement of goals will be measured.

Countries recognize that more money is needed to address biodiversity loss — estimated at $100-150 billion extra each year — but countries remain divided on where these funds should come from. And the removal of national subsidies on nature-destroying activities is a thorny issue.

Monitoring and data is critical to the success of the agreement, with the failure of many of the ambitious 2010 Aichi targets blamed on poor monitoring. 

Other roadblocks come from countries themselves, with Brazil and Argentina roundly accused of teaming up and hindering progress.

The European Union has also been accused of taking a backseat in the talks. And, critically, the Chinese presidency has been accused of not showing the leadership required of a host country, in contrast to the steering provided by the United Kingdom at climate talks in Glasgow in 2021.

One component that scientists say is a key part of the whole deal — the open sharing of genetic sequencing — had enjoyed successful late-night negotiations, but it still faced unusual last-minute dissent from Bolivia despite the text's being agreed on.

anggala Agni and military personnel were seen extinguishing the fire hotspot from peatland fires which are plantation areas in Ogan Komering Ilir, Palembang, Sumatra island, Indonesia.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are intertwined crises that threaten humanity's continued existenceImage: Aditya Sutanta/ABACA/picture alliance

A deal is critical

Despite these hurdles, scientists and environmentalists say securing an effective deal at Kunming is critical.

The loss of biodiversity is a destructive force that threatens humanity as much as climate change, scientists say, with the Earth already in the throes of its sixth mass extinction.

The world has just one decade to turn the tide against biodiversity loss, including striking agreements, setting the governance framework, and implementing them on a local and global scale, according to Kirsten Thonicke, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the speaker for the collaborative Leibniz Research Network Biodiversity. 

"The longer we wait, the longer we delay decisions, the worse it will get," Thonicke said. "And then we have to start making much stricter decisions and policy implementations, which risk destabilizing societies or putting societies under stress. So we cannot lose time. We are at the point where we just can't afford to fail. We need some sort of agreement."

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