Week one (03 – 10 December 2022) of the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the Convention onBiological Diversity (CBD) taking place in Montreal, Canada, ended dismally with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) text nowhere near arresting the biodiversity crisis. Some government delegates are negotiating the GBF text as if it’s business as usual completely divorced from the reality on the ground. The corporate presence looms large in the corridors and the open spaces of the Palais de Congres, the conference centre for the COP15 event, providing dubious solutions to the biodiversity crisis.
After one week of negotiations, the heavily contested GBF text (with many brackets) continues to have vague concepts like ‘nature positive’, a call for the conservation of 30% of the planet’s protected areas by 2030 (referred to as ‘30 x 30’), with false solutions couched in a term ‘nature based solutions’ and the inclusion of dangerous technologies including geoengineering and gene drives.
Interventions made by some governments to ensure that human rights based approaches are at the core of the GBF, are strongly missing. What we have to contend with right now is lukewarm text on human rights with a weak introduction/chapeau that quite misses the mark.
Additionally, several developed countries like Japan and Switzerland are pushing for the use of digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources without the inclusion of benefit sharing from the use of this technology within the GBF text. The term DSI does not have an internationally agreed meaning for now and it is a term that was introduced to the agenda of the CBD and its Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (Nagoya Protocol) some time in 2016.
In simple terms it means that genetic resources can be accessed through codes digitally without the need for physical biological presence. In reality what DSI does is that it facilitates the theft of indigenous knowledge and genetic resources by digital means. In the last week, we saw countries from the African region pushing to include the sharing of benefits from the use of DSI but this continues to be blocked by developed countries especially Japan and Switzerland.
At the stock take plenary on 10 December, delegates heard the updates from the various working and contact groups on the GBF, CBD and the Nagoya and Cartagena Protocols. The plenary also heard a statement from the Like Minded Group on Biodiversity and Development consisting of the African Group, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, the Philippines, and Venezuela, calling for the establishment of a funding mechanism dedicated to biodiversity.
The joint statement read out by the delegate from Brazil, stated that it should be a second generation fund that would draw “on lessons learned from the successes and limitations of existing funds” to “ensure timely, direct and needs-based access by developing countries, making the CBD “future-ready””. Earlier in the week in a contact group, a delegate from Democratic Republic of Congo stated that without a decision on a dedicated fund to biodiversity and without a proper strategy on resource mobilisation, they will not support the GBF.
Apart from the negotiations and the discussions in the various rooms at the Palais De Congres, NGOs and CSOs from the environmental and peasant movements, indigenous peoples, youths and others have been consistently countering the narratives of big conservation based groups, corporations and a few academia and researchers that having a vague concept like ‘nature positive’ world, the need for ‘nature based solutions’ and more technology fixes will fix the biodiversity crisis. NGOs and CSOs opposing these solutions are repeatedly saying to the governments that none of these address the heart of the matter and the root causes of the biodiversity crisis. In a recent article, Friends of the Earth International has reiterated that corporations have co-opted the term ‘nature’ as part of their greenwashing tactic so that they can justify the destruction of nature. Hence, weaving in words like ‘nature based solutions’ and ‘nature positive’ is doing the planet more harm than good as it cleverly masks what corporations are planning to do behind closed doors.
During the week there was also an important side event organised by the Third World Network (TWN) and other organisations that discussed the link between debt and the biodiversity and climate crises. This discussion was a first of its kind in a COP event that showed the large gap between existing financial resources and the resources needed to achieve biodiversity objectives as well as the transformative changes necessary in achieving the same. Speakers at this event spoke on the following, among others,
- there are finance gaps for climate and biodiversity actions and the need for more public funding is necessary to meet these objectives. To date, all the private finance promised for biodiversity conservation have not even materialised. Hence, at the end of the day, all the private finance in the world will not achieve the objectives of the GBF;
- there are large financial flows that fund harmful subsidies and investments and that debt and austerity measures are key impediments to the implementation of the GBF;
- the difficulty of developing countries spending on social and climate needs as they have to service their debt. It becomes very expensive for countries to service their debt and they have to take on more loans to service the same;
- the debt cycle is connected to biodiversity loss through an extractive model of development, and this has happened through centuries of colonisation where the focus has been on the economy, commodities, forest resources and cheap labour which has given rise to the biodiversity crisis;
- the ecological debt arises from several conditions including the disproportionate ecological space, driven by driving unsustainable consumption patterns; and
- the debt issue is a systemic issue and it is important this extractivist model must not be incentivised. Equity and justice must be at the heart of the GBF.
Finally, within and outside the conference space, we saw a number of actions organised by various CSOs and NGOs. On 9 December, in the run up to the International Human Rights Day, the CBD Alliance organised a silent walk within the conference space to remember and honour environmental human rights defenders who have been murdered in their struggle to protect biodiversity.
On 10 December, the Canadian civil societies through the COP15 Collective, together with the CBD Alliance, Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) and Greenpeace Canada came together and organised the Great March for Life which saw more than 3,500 participants braving the bitter cold (-9 degrees) and participating in the march.
COP15 now moves into week two where there will be heated discussions, compromises and trade-offs between country representatives here. What would be essential is that governments do not conclude and agree to a severely watered down GBF text, with the pretence that this would be the answer to immediately halting and reversing biodiversity destruction.
For further reading:
Beyond the Gap: Placing biodiversity finance in the Global Economy, https://www.twn.my/title2/finance/2021/fi210504.htm
Publication on the update to the CBD by Third World Network, https://www.twn.my/title2/briefing_papers/UN_Biodiversity_meetings.htm