This post is by Fiona Dobson, international policy officer at RSPB.
Last week, MPs and peers from all parties came together at an event to “stand up for a nature-positive world”, urging and supporting the government to take a strong lead at the upcoming UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 summit. Due to be held under the presidency of China, COP15 will gather 195 nations to agree on a new global framework to save nature this decade.
In 2010, countries committed to 20 Aichi Biodiversity targets, aimed at halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020. But when that year was reached, the Global Biodiversity Outlook showed that, despite all the efforts and some progress, governments had collectively failed to meet them. RSPB’s Lost Decade report shone a light on the fact that here in the UK we spectacularly failed to meet nearly all of the Aichi targets.
New targets are now being negotiated for 2030 in time for COP15, under the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. This will cover a range of areas, from sustainable agriculture to the wildlife trade and protected areas (the so called ‘30 by 30’ target).
What will be different this time round?
Following the failure of the 2020 targets, there’s now a much bigger push to get implementation mechanisms right so we see action this time. This includes agreeing how countries will translate targets into their domestic contexts, make plans to meet them (with National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans) and report against them. There’s real hope that the process will be more transparent and accountable this time round. At the very least, the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans should lead to more domestic action. And, this time, there are serious discussions about finance, which it is hoped will lead to much more, and accessible, money for achieving goals.
After last year’s COP26 climate conference, which drew attention to biodiversity issues too, along with new commitments to funding, it is hoped that COP15 will follow and mobilise significant momentum, resources and political awareness.
The crunch point in June
The long road to COP15 has, however, been pitted with potholes, delays and u-turns. Delayed four times already, alarmingly the tentative new date of September 2022 also looks in peril due to China’s ‘zero-covid’ policy. RSPB has called for the COP to be held as soon as possible in 2022 to avoid losing any more time in this decade.
Progress towards this summit has also been slow, with countless online meetings and, more recently, in-person negotiations. The most recent of these were in Geneva in March and, while they made some progress, the outcome fell well below the mark, failing to reach a consensus. These meetings resulted in very lengthy draft goals and targets, referred to, sarcastically, by some countries as ‘Christmas Trees’ thanks to the multitude of brackets they contained.
To ensure we really get somewhere before the framework is sent to COP15 for agreement, a further meeting has been scheduled for June in Nairobi. This will be the crunch point for the international community to get its act together.
As Minister for the International Environment and Climate Zac Goldsmith said at last week’s event in parliament: “We have an opportunity this year to build on the momentum of COP26 and make this the moment we put nature on a path to recovery. But it will require a lot of heavy lifting internationally, particularly in relation to finance for nature and targets to protect at least 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea by the end of the decade.”
The UK needs to take a lead
The UK has a crucial opportunity to lead on driving success at COP15. And it has a responsibility to do so if it is to live up to its 25 year environment plan promise to leave nature in a substantially better state than we found it.
A good starting point would be for the prime minister to raise the profile of the CBD at the highest political levels, providing a strong voice in pledging to participate in the summit himself and announce major new commitments. This would send a powerful signal about the importance the UK places on reversing nature loss and the need to foster international consensus on strong goals and targets.
Another role for the UK would be mobilising finance for the new global framework to be implemented. Committing money ahead of COP15, and redirecting incentives harmful to biodiversity towards nature-positive activities and investments instead, would show real leadership, as would taking tangible actions for nature at home across all four UK nations. As president of the COP26 climate summit, and the main driver of the G7 nature compact and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, the UK is in a unique position right now to elevate the issues globally.
The resounding memory from last week’s event was a powerful video message from Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the CBD: “We know the problem, we know the solution to the problem, … we also know how to solve the problem. What is still missing – and which we all talk about day and night – is actually the action on the ground to make the changes needed … to move us to where we are to the better world we all want to see.”
Now, more than ever, words and pledges need to turn into action for nature’s recovery, in the UK and across the globe.