The wetland in Thailand's Northeast, which is seasonally flooded and provides rich food sources for locals there.

Digital sequence information challenges new global biodiversity framework as indicators for success in saving biodiversity advance

The two-week long CBD meetings ended late Wednesday night (March 29), with some progress made_and stumbling blocks arising over the new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) finished their marathon working group discussion in Geneva, Switzerland, where the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was heavily reviewed and argued with many clauses of the framework left undecided.

After deliberating how to safeguard biodiversity and species of the planet over the next few decades (2030-2050), the CBD parties struggled to resolve policy on Digital Sequence Information (DSI) but, while it and other issues are left undetermined, progress was still made on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

Pending clauses will need to be resolved before the second phase of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Kunming, China, anticipated for August or September of this year. The event is seen as a critical moment for biodiversity conservation and social resilience following the impacts of Covid-19. Another working group meeting will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in late June to try to finalize the proposed draft framework for COP15. (Read: Political impetus to save the world’s biodiversity galvanised as “Kunming Declaration” adopted at COP15 today)

The global community first created the Convention in 1992 to regulate and save the world’s biodiversity, which has been under severe threat for decades. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which assessed the state of the world’s biodiversity in 2019, found that up to one million out of eight million species are under threat of extinction by human activities. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction have led to an assumption on several newly emerging disease outbreaks, including Covid-19.

The CBD’s parties instituted the Aichi Targets to guide their actions from 2011 to 2020, but it is recognized as “a failure” as most of the targets were not met by the participating countries. (Read: Global community fails to save biodiversity from “unprecedented” and “accelerating” loss as it only “partially” achieves 6 out of 20 targets by 10-year deadline)

The last 15 days have been long for delegates congregated in Geneva, with some days of discussion extending as late as 3 am. However, great strides were made in an effort to progress the GBF in preparation for COP15, with discussions from the Science Body (SPSTTA), Subsidiary Body in Implementation (SBI), and the Working Group on the framework co-occurring daily. (Read: Draft Global Biodiversity Framework advanced at UN working group meetings)

According to the CBD secretariat, the overarching goals of the draft framework were reaffirmed, though many alterations and additional milestones were suggested that now need review. The draft’s objectives were to protect the elements of biodiversity at all levels (genetic, species, and ecosystem), sustainable use of biodiversity for human well-being, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of biodiversity; all of which were retained in the new draft.

The 21 draft targets for the framework also took centre stage in the discussions, the secretariate noted, adding that there was extensive engagement and suggestions for added elements coming from the parties.

According to the chair of SPSTTA at a press conference on Wednesday, the science body was able to analyze around 40 indicators, assessing them for feasibility. Over 100 more indicators were proposed by the parties, so further analysis is needed to see if the newly suggested indicators respond adequately to the final GBF goals and whether they are applicable at the national and international levels.

To approve indicators, delegates were asked to rate the proposed indicator with “a traffic light” signal. They were asked, for instance; Is it a reliable method of study? Does it have information on the global level? Does it have information that I can find in my country? If all three criteria were met, the country delegate would give “a green light”. If two of the criteria were met, it was “a yellow light”. If one or none of the criteria fit, the delegate would give “a red light”, effectively vetoing that indicator method.

“I’m very happy to see this serious work by the parties,” said the SPSTTA chair, Hesiquio Benitez, during the press conference. “What’s left is to identify gaps and fill them during the inter-sessional period.”

The SBI similarly resolved several issues including resource mobilization and capacity building, deciding on over 20 recommendations for COP15.

“We now have some kind of understanding and language that can be drawn upon in the common meeting in Nairobi,” explained SBI chair Charlotta Sörqvist. “There are many brackets left in our draft decisions, but the GBF needs to be a package deal. Everything needs to be seen together in the end.”

The stumbling blocks

One of the largest stumbling blocks in the convention was the financing for biodiversity. The delegates worked on decreasing spending costs where possible, while the amount of financial resources needed rose to $700 billion.

The CBD’s Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, downplayed concerns that such the skyrocketing demand could not be met, saying this funding would not merely be from donors, but from “all sources” including domestic spending. $500 billion of the $700 billion was first proposed to derive from repurposed subsidies harmful to the environment, redirecting the funds to support biodiversity-positive programs, according to the secretariate.

Other panellists agreed with her, saying it should not just be the public investing in solving climate problems because any delayed action on biodiversity could cost billions or trillions of dollars in the future. “The benefits from biodiversity conservation today means the benefits for the next generations,” said Co-Chair of the Working Group, Francis Ogwal.

 “Really, biodiversity is here to give business security,” Ogwal added, addressing concerns raised by the private sector. “Biodiversity, when you conserve it, you have a much more secure future. Business needs to be part of implementing this framework.”

DSI Simply Explained. Credit: CBD/The ABS Capacity Development Initiative

DSI was considered and recommended to help materialize the resource mobilization on the ground. The use of DSI is not yet agreed upon, and even the definition remains vague, encompassing basic genetic information like DNA to RNA, proteins of plants and animals, and even local land use knowledge.

DSI was reviewed thoroughly in the final few days of the Geneva meetings, but it was decided that further consultation is necessary during the Nairobi meeting. A temporary agreement was made through including a neutral clause, keeping the topic open for further debate: “This recommendation is intended to facilitate the further process on DSI issues and does not prejudge the definition and views on the parameters and principles governing a final solution.”

Dr. Benchamaporn Wattanatongchai and other Thai delegates at the Geneva meetings. Credit: ONEP

Thailand’s reactions

In an exclusive interview with Bangkok Tribune from Geneva, Dr. Benchamaporn Wattanatongchai, one of Thailand’s delegates at the Geneva meetings and Senior Professional Environmentalist at the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP), said Thailand is drafting the new Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management to be in line with the GBF.

“We have to protect our resources for socio-economic development; on the coast, we need to think of biodiversity as a part of tourism. Inland, we need to make sure that businesses know that water is a resource,” said Dr. Benchamaporn.

But while the Framework focuses on involving all sectors of society for biodiversity engagement and protection, Thailand’s Master Plan from 2015 to present largely focuses on government and public engagement, excluding the private sector.

Although the business sector in Thailand is yet uninvolved in biodiversity conservation, Dr. Benchamaporn said the public is generally engaging more with biodiversity. Through education programs, the younger generation knows more about biodiversity than before the Master Plan was implemented in 2015.

Local involvement in conservation has been actualized by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation and the Royal Forestry Department through enrolling local communities in their programming, she said.

“Everyone has to look after the land,” said Dr. Benchamaporn. “One of our goals was for people to know the value of biodiversity and to get people involved. Thailand’s Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management was quite successful in this.”

Thailand will follow whatever protocols are agreed upon for the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, but Dr. Benchamaporn sees the difficulty in addressing the DSI issue. She questioned how they can trace the use of DSI, what data has already been shared, and how benefits to the local community will be ensured.

In all, Dr. Benchamaporn is hopeful for the results of the Framework in Thailand.

“Ecosystems should be restored. We should reduce both direct and indirect threats, reduce invasive alien species, and revive degraded ecosystems. We should try to find the line between development and conservation,” said Dr. Benchamaporn.
The campaign calling for nature protection by 30% recently launched by the Campaign for Nature. Credit: Campaign for Nature

”Major disappointment”

Finance and DSI are not the only issues left unresolved. The science body, SBSTTA, did not meet consensus on recommending marine and coastal biodiversity policies and indicators of success in coastal or marine conservation success, and will continue to resolve specifics during the inter-sessional period.

All parties contributed suggestions and engaged in discussions on the draft targets of the framework. “Much of the text will require streamlining,” the secretariates noted. “However, this shows that the world governments hold great importance to the discussions.”

Dr. Benchamaporn does worry about the time efficiency of the Framework, as no dates have been announced for the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kun Ming.

“2030 is the limit and we are losing time to implement the protocols. People expected that the framework would be adopted here, but now it feels like we’re behind,” Dr. Benchaporm admitted. “New lines have been added with many alternatives—many parties try to insert their words and it is difficult to compile. But the Framework presented in Nairobi will be clean. We need a deadline. With no deadline, you can just continue and continue.”

As of now, the COP15 is anticipated for August or September of 2022 and the CBD secretariat is only waiting for China to conclude internal consultations and release official dates for the meeting.

Some civil organizations, however, are dissatisfied with the meetings as countries failed to agree on any new biodiversity targets. Brian O’Donnell at the non-profit Campaign for Nature, an alliance of more than 100 conservation organizations, told New Scientist; “It’s a major disappointment that here we are two years delayed into the process and still feeling a long, long way from an agreement.”

“The Working Group on Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is facing many formidable challenges,” remarked Ms. Mrema, in her closing remarks to the delegates.

“You are working to craft a truly global framework that will engage all sectors of society, contain the level of ambition necessary to reduce and reverse biodiversity loss, mobilize sufficient resources and tools, and ensure that benefits are shared fairly and equitably. All to achieve the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature.”