The UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 was held from 7th to 19th December in Montreal. The conference was an opportunity for governments to take action on the enormity of the biodiversity loss, species extinction and destruction of ecosystems that is the result of human activity. The scale of the challenge was highlighted recently in the Living Planet Report which showed that populations of wildlife fell by 69% between 1970 and 2018.
An agreement was reached at COP15 in the form of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The parts of the agreement attracting most attention include the targets to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, to reduce harmful government subsidies by $500bn per year, and to cut global food waste in half. While the GBF, and in particular the 30×30 target, has initially been described as a historic deal, a sweeping deal, a landmark deal and so on, most commentary is also expressing significant reservations.
The chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts tried to communicate a message of optimism, writing that he feels hopeful, based on the achievement of a consensus agreement and audacious target, while also highlighting the substantial work needed for implementation. An editorial in the Guardian points out that while the GBF is a ‘step forward’, it won’t be effective in stopping continued loss and extinction or in addressing the effects of unsustainable consumption. Similarly, Scientists at the Natural History Museum have expressed ‘mixed feelings’ due to the overall lack of ambition and loopholes in targets (though they suggest the 30×30 target is more ‘strongly worded’), a lack of measurability of some targets, and concerns that targets could be met on paper without protecting and restoring biodiversity in reality. Greenpeace goes further to say that even the 30×30 target is only protection on paper, particularly as it does not rule out harmful activities in protected areas.
Friends of the Earth International have stated directly that the agreement is not fit for purpose, highlighting ‘corporate capture’ of the conference, detailed in their Nature of Business report, and the encouragement of industries that cause biodiversity loss, such as agribusiness, through practices that are presented as ‘biodiversity friendly’ when they are not, such as ‘sustainable intensification’. Additionally, Friends of the Earth Nigeria highlights the rising influence of biotech/agribusiness lobbies and the narrowing of attempts to monitor biotechnology in the GBF.
So, moving on from COP15, what would help? Countries could be made more accountable, for example through the adaptation of review mechanisms used in international human rights law, and indigenous-led conservation (not just language about indigenous rights) could be supported. At the very least, the UK government must be held to account for its part in the implementation of the targets in the GBF in the very immediate future.
Progress Report on 30×30 in England from Wildlife and Countryside Link (a coalition of nature charities including The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust)
Written by Emily Taylor