Next month Montreal in Canada will host the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). Despite attracting less headlines than its climate change COP-counterparts, COP15 has particular significance as the parties seek to settle a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework will guide the next decade of action on biodiversity.

The lead up to COP15 has been defined by a coordinated campaign for the parties to adopt strong biodiversity targets in the new framework. Recognising the power of ‘net zero’ as a climate change concept, the biodiversity movement is seeking to create a rallying call around ‘nature positive’, reflecting concepts outlined in the Global Goal for Nature:

  • to halt and reverse net nature loss from a baseline of 2020;
  • by 2030 increase the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations and ecosystems; and
  • by 2050, nature has recovered so that ecosystems and nature-based solutions can continue to support future generations.

While many nations have indicated support for protection of biodiversity and nature positive actions, the level of support for specific commitment and action at COP15 is yet to be tested.

Snapshot

  • COP15 aims to create a strong international framework on biodiversity for the next decade.
  • There are several campaigns calling for commitment to becoming ‘nature positive’ and protecting 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
  • Discourse on nature positive and biodiversity considerations generally acknowledges the interaction of climate change with other environmental concerns, as well as the relevance of human rights to environmental matters.

How did we get here?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (the Convention) emerged from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and came into force in December 1993. The Convention has three central objectives:

  • the conservation of biological diversity;
  • the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and
  • the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of genetic resources.

At the 10th COP meeting in Nagoya, Japan, the parties adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for 2011-2020 (the 2011 Strategic Plan). The overarching aim of the 2011 Strategic Plan was that by ‘2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people’.

Core to the 2011 Strategic Plan were the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These were 20 individual targets to be achieved by 2020 and covered five strategic goals:

  • addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society;
  • reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use;
  • improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity;
  • enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and
  • enhancing implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

COP15 was originally scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Kunming in October 2020 and aimed to adopt a fresh strategic plan for the new decade. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed COP15 and in 2021 China hosted an online preliminary conference which adopted the non-binding Kunming Declaration. The first commitment of the declaration is to:

Ensure the development, adoption and implementation of an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework, that includes provision of the necessary means of implementation, in line with the Convention, and appropriate mechanisms for monitoring, reporting and review, to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest, towards the full realization of the 2050 Vision of “Living in Harmony with Nature”

There are also several state and NGO-led campaigns that are building support for a strong post-2020 biodiversity framework. These largely focus on goals relating to nature positive and specific commitments about conserving land and oceans. These include:

  • The 2030 Nature Compact which was adopted at the June 2021 G7 meeting in Cornwall. This compact records the intention of the parties to ‘halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030’ and to ensure that the world ‘not only become[s] net zero, but also nature positive’.
  • The Leaders Pledge for Nature was first signed by political leaders at the September 2020 UN Summit on Biodiversity. The pledge calls for biodiversity loss to be halted and reversed with immediate effect. Currently 94 Heads of State and Government, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, have endorsed the pledge which explicitly notes the interdependency of the biodiversity and climate change crises.
  • The Non-State Actors Call to Action has been signed by over 340 organisations and seeks the inclusion of a ‘nature positive mission’ in the post-2020 framework that would ‘reverse biodiversity loss and improve the state of nature by 2030, against a 2020 baseline’.
  • The Campaign for Nature calls for world leaders to adopt a ‘30×30’ target at COP15. This would require the protection of 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.

What do we expect?

There is significant momentum towards a strong post-2020 biodiversity framework. The draft text of the framework (the Draft Framework) has been published and still includes many alternatives to be debated by the parties. It remains unclear whether the parties will be able to cement the strongest nature positive and conservation targets in the final text. Whatever the outcome at COP15 there are already clear trends emerging.

The Australian Government is taking action even before the post-2020 framework is agreed. Last month the Government published its 2022-2023 Threatened Species Action Plan which aims to prevent any new extinctions in Australia. It specifically commits to conserve more than 30% of Australia’s land mass and oceans by 2030.

We expect that whatever form the post-2020 Biodiversity Convention framework takes, it will increase pressure on business to act on biodiversity protection and better monitor and report on progress. The Draft Framework includes target 15 which, among the various alternatives, seeks to require business to assess, monitor, and disclose regular evaluations and accept responsibility for dependencies and impacts on biodiversity and human rights (including on the rights of mother earth). It also calls for business to reduce negative impacts on nature by half, increase positive impacts, and ensure legal responsibility, including redress for damage. We expect that these requirements, even if they are not incorporated into the international framework, will become best practice expectations for firms as the focus on nature increases.

Governance tools are increasingly seeking to assist companies to consistently and efficiently address climate and broader environmental risks and impacts. For example, the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures established in 2015 has now been joined by the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. This new taskforce was set up in 2020 and recognises that US $44 trillion of economic value generation is moderately or highly dependent on nature. The TNFD reporting framework builds from the TCFD concepts and framework and is expected to be finalised in September 2023.

We will monitor the outcomes at COP15 and provide a further update in due course.