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COP15 – A new framework for nature

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Townsend Matthew
Matthew Townsend

Partner

London

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Danae Wheeler

Associate

London

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Jasmin Fraser

Associate

London

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21 December 2022

The path to an agreement has been a long one, requiring the consent of over 190 countries, however, the Global Biodiversity Framework final text has finally been approved.

COP15 was an eventful conference, which witnessed walkouts by several countries on the issue of finance, and a notable absence of world leaders and ministers at the start of the conference.  Controversially, the Chinese Minister leading COP15 brought down the official gavel, declaring that a proposed deal had been passed, only minutes after the Congolese representative had made a formal objection.  Despite a challenging journey, however, the final text of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), alongside texts on Resource Mobilisation, Implementation & Accountability and Digital Sequencing Information, was published on 18 December 2022.

Key targets:

  • 30x30 target - protect 30% of land and sea by 2030.
  • Disclosure - requires governments to ensure that large and transnational companies disclose “their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity”.
  • Fund - Global Biodiversity Fund to be established by 2023 with its own governance under the Global Environmental Facility with a sunset clause in 2030.
  • Protecting wildlife species – halt human-induced extinctions, reduce extinction risk by a factor of 10 by 2050, and conserve and recover species (particularly threatened species) by 2030 whilst maintaining their genetic diversity.

The Global Biodiversity Framework

The GBF is built around a “theory to change”, recognising that urgent policy action is required to achieve sustainable development. It provides for a: 

  1. 2050 vision: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.” This is to be achieved via four goals.
  2. 2030 mission: “To take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to put nature on a path to recovery for the benefit of people and planet by conserving and sustainably using biodiversity, and ensuring the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources, while providing the necessary means of implementation.” This is to be achieved through 23 action-oriented global targets.

The 23 targets, the subject of much debate and negotiation, are split into three sections: 1) reducing threats to biodiversity, 2) meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing and 3) tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming.  These include a number of key provisions.

  • The setting of targets to ensure that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of areas degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems are under effective restoration and non-degraded systems are effectively conserved and managed (targets 2 and 3). These are referred to as the “30x30” targets.  
  • The use, harvesting and trade of wild species should be sustainable, safe and legal, preventing over-exploitation, minimizing impacts on non-target species and ecosystems, and reducing the risk of pathogen spill-over (target 5).
  • The link between climate change and biodiversity was re-iterated with the inclusion of the term in target 8, to minimise the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity and increase its resilience.
  • To take effective legal, policy, administrative and capacity-building measures at all levels to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the utilization of genetic resources and from digital sequence information on genetic resources (target 13).
  • Target 18 provides for the identification, elimination and phase out or otherwise the reform of incentives, including subsidies, harmful for biodiversity, in a proportionate, just, fair, effective and equitable way, while substantially and progressively reducing them by at least USD 500 billion per year by 2030. With reports suggesting that subsidies to industries harming biodiversity and the planet amount to nearly USD 2 trillion annually, this target is crucial to initiate their phase out.
  • As regards the sensitive topic of finance, the inclusion of a target to substantially and progressively increase the level of financial resources from all sources, and by 2030 mobilize at least USD 200 billion per year (target 19). A GBF Fund, similar to the Global Environment Facility was established to assist with this resource mobilisation. The fund would seek to scale up financing to ensure the timely implementation of the GBF with adequate and timely flow of funds.
  • National biodiversity strategies and action plans, known by its acronym NBSAPs, are to be used to encourage responsibility and transparency. Further to this, Day 2 of COP15 saw the establishment of the Accelerator Partnership which will support governments in fast tracking implementation of their NBSAPs.

The GBF claims to be an “ambitious plan” and, in many respects, it is.  However, the final text falls short in some areas, including:

  • Target 15, which requires legal, administrative or policy measures to encourage and enable business and financial institutions to monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, amongst others, fell short of its full potential. Whilst the obligation looked like it might be a mandatory requirement, the term was removed and replaced with the voluntary “encourage and enable” phrasing. Nevertheless, Target 15 outlines requirements for countries to develop regulations that would otherwise require companies to report their impact and dependencies on nature.
  • The absence of a ratchet mechanism to ensure countries continually increase their ambition.
  • Although the EU managed to push through a reduction of the overall risk from pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals by at least half, its wording to commit to restore 3 billion hectares of degraded land and freshwater ecosystems and 3 billion hectares of ocean ecosystems didn’t make the cut. The EU also backed a proposal to halve the global ecological footprint, but this was weakened to state that countries should “reduce the global footprint of consumption in an equitable manner, including through halving global food waste, significantly reducing overconsumption and substantially reducing waste generation”.
  • Oceans (which cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and much of its animal life) failed to get much consideration, with only two mentions in the final text. This has led to fears that marine biodiversity will be negatively impacted through watered down protections. Whether or not the 30x30 target explicitly captures the high seas is uncertain.
  • Details of the GBF Fund remain unclear, including timescales, though any financial commitments will be non-binding in nature.

What next?

COP15 also highlighted the divergence between countries on the issue of biodiversity. The UK, for example, was criticised for advocating to protect at least 30% of the world's land and oceans by 2030, whilst delaying targets under the UK’s Environment Act and failing to include a protected area target in Government plans. Claims from Canada about working to protect indigenous peoples’ rights were undermined by a letter sent by indigenous groups to the Prime Minister to stop logging of old-growth forests and construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure. While the US has recently created a special biodiversity envoy, the US remains a non-party to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

It has been said that the 30x30 targets could be the highly symbolic 1.5C for biodiversity.  Unlike its predecessor, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the GBF contains details on how governments will need to plan, monitor and review progress. Countries that have ratified the Convention will be required to, and the success of the Framework will evidently depend on, national implementation of goals and targets. It also increases the likelihood that frameworks such as the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures will become mandatory, as we saw with its more commonly known sister in the UK, the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.

Overall, COP15 was clearly an important step toward much greater focus being given to biodiversity loss and associated mitigation efforts.  It reflects growing international recognition that biodiversity needs to be protected with the same level of political focus as climate.  There is some way to go on this journey but it’s clear that international alignment needs to be reached to protect biodiversity and a broad range of domestic policy and regulatory measures will need to be deployed along the way.    

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