COP15 - what did we learn?

If you work in the fields of climate change remediation or biodiversity, or indeed if you had a chance to read our recent blog on the outcomes of COP26, you will be aware that another important multilateral conference took place at the end of 2022: COP15 in Montreal – which focused on biodiversity. We have put together a short summary of the outcomes which we hope you might find useful and interesting.

COP15 was co-chaired by China and Canada. The conference was originally supposed to be held in Kunming, China in 2020, but was delayed due to Covid restrictions, and eventually hosted by Canada. The significant outcome was the agreement of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), signed by 195 countries on 20th December 2022, which includes four Goals and 23 specific targets.

The 30x30 Target was perhaps the biggest headline of COP15 – that 30% of Earth’s lands and oceans gain protection by 2030. Whilst some commentators have expressed delight at this commitment from 195 countries, led, no less, by China, some have argued that this can also be read as 70% being still unprotected and therefore up for further plunder. Nevertheless the Global Biodiversity Framework can be seen as a positive step towards slowing extinction of flora and fauna caused by human industry and human-caused climate change.

Some alarming estimates help set the context on global biodiversity loss:

  • The World Wildlife Fund stated that: “Wildlife populations have declined by an average 69% in the past 50 years”.
  • The World Economic Forum declared that: “$44T [close to half of global GDP] is generated in industries dependent on nature, led by construction, agriculture, and food”.
  • The World Bank commented that: “The collapse of select ecosystems could result in a decline in global GDP of $2.7T annually by 2030”.

We won’t go into all 23 targets and four goals here, but would recommend that you read the full press release on the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity’s website to pick out those most relevant to your business. The targets deal with a diverse range of issues, including the protection of indigenous people’s rights, reforming government subsidies and incentives that may harm biodiversity, and ensuring that gender equality is considered in the implementation of the framework.

Finance played a key role at COP15, focusing on the key question of how much developed countries would spend to address biodiversity in less developed countries. a Special Trust Fund, called the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, will be set up by The Global Environment Facility to support the framework’s implementation.

Importantly, COP15 also saw increased attendance from corporate and financial institutions, which may be an indication of their increased awareness of links between biodiversity, productivity and risk. Whilst we are seeing many innovative mechanisms emerge, such as bio-credits or nature capital funds, these are still in their infancy, and as we saw with carbon schemes at their start, it is difficult to evaluate their impact. The World Economic Forum have released a white paper that includes a view of some of the GBF’s targets most relevant to business, which we’d recommend reviewing; it is available here.

So what’s missing from the GBF? The agreement does not set milestones to 2030. Some of the language is unspecific, with targets “close to zero” or reducing extinction “significantly”. Mandatory corporate disclosures were not part of the agreement. In addition, as noted by Dr Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary for IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), there are “no milestone numbers for the three levels of biodiversity - genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. This lack of granularity means that while outcomes for 2050 are secured, there are no intermediary targets”.

Experts are divided on whether the GBF is strong enough to be considered a biodiversity equivalent to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. As usual, it will all come down to implementation. National Implementation Plans for the GBF are due to be submitted in 2024, and we look forward to following this issue as it progresses.

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