Landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 agreed

Landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 agreed
The GBF is a plan to implement broad-based action to transform society’s relationship with biodiversity.

The 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) concluded last week with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, or GBF for short, setting four overarching goals and 23 targets with the mission to take urgent action to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” by 2030. The COP15 Presidency was held by China, though the second part of the conference was co-hosted by Canada, after it was changed to take place in Montreal. The 196 governments who are Parties to the CBD adopted the framework, which supersedes the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and Aichi Targets (agreed in Japan and spanning 2010-2020). Though imperfect, most recognise the successful adoption of the GBF as a landmark moment in the global fight against biodiversity loss.

Strengths of the framework

The flagship ‘30 by 30’ target, Target 3, which states that “at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas” are conserved by 2030, was agreed. Serious concerns that this target risked land grabs and human rights violations in the name of fortress conservation were at least partially quelled when the words “respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), including over their traditional territories” were kept in the final text. The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, the official group representing indigenous peoples to the CBD, issued two statements in the last days of COP15, urging parties to accept the text as it is currently worded, and subsequently celebrating the timely recognition of IPLC contributions, roles and rights, stating “We have spoken and you have heard us”. Indeed throughout the framework, not just in target 3, there was extensive reference to the need to uphold the rights of IPLCs and recognition of their leading and fundamental role they have always played and continue to play in biodiversity conservation. Nonetheless, others maintain that the protection of indigenous rights and recognition of their conservation contributions were still diminished by failing to recognize indigenous territories as a separate protection category in Target 3.

Targets also include having at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems under effective restoration by 2030 (Target 2), and reducing to “near zero” the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity (Target 1).

Target 4 was altered at the last moment before adoption to include wording on “actions to halt human induced extinction of known threatened species” and “to significantly reduce extinction risk” by 2030. This had been removed from the presidency’s first draft, a move condemned by many parties and civil society groups, whose calls ultimately led to its re-inclusion. Other notable Targets include ones on mitigating the impact of invasive alien species (Target 6), reducing excess nutrient pollution by half and reducing the overall risk from pesticides by at least half (Target 7), and ensuring a gender-responsive approach to the implementation of the framework (Target 23).

Agroecology was officially included for the first time in the CBD, present in Target 10 on “substantially increasing the application of biodiversity friendly practices, such as sustainable intensification, agroecological and other innovative approaches”, although the inclusion of “sustainable intensification” is very concerning as it could enable business-as-usual harmful industrial agriculture practices.

Watered down ambition

Despite a call from over 3300 researchers from 130 countries urging negotiators to resist all pressures to weaken ambition, there is no doubt that the GBF text was watered down in places. Of particular concern was the lack of quantitative objectives in the overarching goals. In the end, most quantitative values were removed from the goals, most notably in Goal A, which was stripped down and weakened. For example, the wording to increase the “area of natural ecosystems by 5 per cent by 2030 and by 20 per cent by 2050” was removed and replaced by “substantially increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050”. Indeed, despite frequent reiteration of the importance of ensuring goals and targets are SMART (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound), all goals and several targets fell short of this aim, leaving the text with a lack of defined biodiversity outcomes. Observers also note that the wording of the GBF mission is potentially weak in that it aims to “take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss”, instead of aiming to directly “halt and reverse biodiversity loss”.

Another major concern is the lack of robust language around the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as unsustainable consumption and production, covered by Target 16, in which the final text lacked measurable outcomes, following the deletion of the wording to “halve the global footprint of consumption”, opting instead to merely “reduce” it.

The five direct drivers of biodiversity loss are land/sea use change, direct exploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species, with the first driver dominating over the others. The global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone threatening more than 85 per cent of the 28,000 species at risk of extinction. Moreover, industrial animal agriculture is estimated to drive around 30% of biodiversity loss on land. This was not recognised in the text.

Another stark example of the final text being watered down is the exclusion of the word ‘mandatory’ in Target 15, where the text previously demanded mandatory requirements for businesses to disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity. This was particularly disappointing as there was minimal opposition from parties to retaining the term and that there were strong calls from businesses and the private sector to also make disclosures mandatory for them, as it provided clarity and a level playing field. The term ‘circular economy’ was also lost from Target 15 in the final version of the text, a big frustration for many given the fundamental need for systemic change in the way we run our economies.

A ratchet without teeth?

Perhaps the weakest part of the text concerns the so-called ratchet mechanism, outlined in Section J on Responsibility and Transparency of the GBF. This involves a cyclical process of planning, monitoring, reporting and review for National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), informally called ‘present, review, ratchet’. Though an improvement from the previous Aichi targets where no such process was agreed, these revisions to NBSAPs are voluntary (in contrast to revisions of the UNFCCC climate pledges – or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – where countries are mandated to report every 5 years on how they have increased ambition). Moreover, none of the CBD decisions, including the GBF, are legally binding.

Significantly more finance for nature, yet not enough

The Framework also includes commitment from parties to mobilise at least $200 billion USD per year, including by increasing international finance flows from developed to developing countries to $20 billion by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030 (Target 19), and, critically, to eliminate $500 billion of nature-harming subsidies (Target 18).

On finance, reactions from parties and observers were mixed. Some applauded the inclusion of the $200 billion overall per year and the $30 billion in international help from richer countries as ambitious. Others, however, highlighted how this is nowhere near enough, particularly in light of the $700 billion per year biodiversity finance gap, identified in the preamble of the text. Certainly, set against the estimated c.$1.8 trillion in subsidies for activities that destroy nature each year, the proposed $500 billion in redirected subsidies remains only a fraction. There was also disagreement among parties, particularly across the Global North-South divide, as to whether a new fund should be created, or if the fund should merely be created within the existing Global Environment Facility (GEF), leading developing nations to walk out from some late-night negotiations in protest.

CBDR and Nature Positive out

Negotiations also broke down over Agenda Item 23 on Biodiversity and Climate Change, regarding the concept of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), a concept historically part of the UNFCCC processes but not the CBD. In these negotiations, the inclusion of nature-based solutions (NbS) was used as a bargaining chip against the inclusion of the concept of CBDR. Ultimately, Global North countries refused to accept CBDR in the CBD and the agenda item was pushed to the next COP, COP16, taking place in 2024 in Türkiye.

The term, Nature Positive, was also excised from the final GBF text. Nature Positive is associated with the goal to halt and reverse nature loss such that by 2030, it is on a clear and measurable path to recovery. It was controversial at COP15 due to having no agreed definition or measurement guidelines; some also worry that it may provide an opportunity for private sector green washing and business-as-usual.

Nature-based solutions in

Conversely, the term “nature-based solutions” was ultimately included in the text, a first for the CBD, as part of Targets 8 and 11. The actions set out in each target need to be initiated immediately and completed by 2030:

  • TARGET 8: Minimize the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increase its resilience through mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction actions, including through nature-based solution [sic] and/or ecosystem-based approaches, while minimizing negative and fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity.
  • TARGET 11: Restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystem functions and services, such as regulation of air, water, and climate, soil health, pollination and reduction of disease risk, as well as protection from natural hazards and disasters, through nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches for the benefit of all people and nature.

The inclusion of NbS in the GBF, as well as the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan adopted at COP27, should enable more policy coherence between the two conventions, bridging the often siloed realms of biodiversity loss and climate change, and encouraging financial flows towards NbS that benefit biodiversity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The multilaterally agreed NbS definition that will be used in the GBF, adopted by the UNEA, states that NbS are ‘actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits.’ While we are concerned that critical bracketed wording in Target 8 after NbS, “based on equity and rights based approaches”, was deleted from GBF text, Section C (Considerations for the implementation of the framework) states that the entire framework should be implemented through a human rights-based approach, and thus NbS must also be implemented as such. Yet, fears persist that inclusion of NbS in the framework will allow them to continue to be co-opted and misused in offsetting schemes. The science is very clear: NbS are not an alternative to drastic emissions cuts, without which ongoing rising global average temperatures will accelerate biodiversity loss. Reflecting this, the UNEA resolution states that “nature-based solutions may contribute significantly to climate action, while recognizing the need for analysis of their effects, including in the long term, and acknowledging that they do not replace the need for rapid, deep and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions…”

In a press conference at COP15, the Global Youth Biodiversity Network also stressed the need for multilaterally agreed-upon criteria for NbS implementation, similar to the NbS Guidelines and to the IUCN Global Standard criteria, but enshrined in a UN multilateral agreement. This is needed to ensure accountability on how NbS will be implemented, while providing necessary guidance to ensure they will deliver benefits to biodiversity and human communities locally.

Last minute upheavals

The moment the GBF was adopted became shrouded in controversy as the plenary saw objection to the agreement from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to a lack of a new fund for biodiversity separate to the existing Global Environment Facility (GEF), a well-known disagreement which had already delayed the start of the plenary session for eight and a half hours. The final agreement was, however, hurriedly confirmed and gavelled in by the COP President at 3:33 am on December 19th, to baffled applause. When challenged by parties sympathising with the DRC, the CBD legal advisor stated that the DRC’s opposition was not deemed a formal opposition, due to the specific wording they used. The DRC retorted that they had indeed meant to make a formal objection, but the gravel had already fallen and the agreement passed. The disagreement was resolved later in the day in the closing plenary, where the DRC and COP President shook hands and the DRC issued a statement formally accepting the GBF and congratulating the COP President on the historic achievement, which settled the unease of many and made clear that the incident would not jeopardise the implementation.

With the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework finalised, implementation of the goals and targets is now crucial to see these commitments become action though national and indeed corporate policies and plans. But to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, to ethically repair our damaged relationship with the natural world on which we depend, we need to urge and support communities, nations and businesses to go beyond the ambition that has been multilaterally agreed.

Learn more on the framework vision, mission, goals and targets by reading the full Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework text. 

Authors: Georgia Hole, Beth Turner and Audrey Wagner