National representatives from across the world have congregated in Geneva to set the stage for the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference, with three separate meetings of the CBD working groups resumed to advance and finalise the draft Global Biodiversity Framework critical to safeguard nature in the next decades
Running from March 14 to March 29, these two weeks of three separate CBD working groups’ meetings aim to refine draft documents and, if possible, find consensus on measures to help curb the global species extinction rate. The strategies and frameworks decided upon in the meetings will be proposed at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) to be held later this year in Kunming, China. With 196 participating countries, the CBD could be a pivotal moment for the future of biodiversity and species on the planet.
The CBD’s estimate in 2009 showed that species were going extinct 50 to 100 times faster than the natural rate, and this could be between 1,000 and 10,000 times, as assessed by other conservation organizations including the IUCN. The latest assessment in 2019 by the intergovernmental scientific body, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), estimated that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened and may face extinction within decades, more than ever before in human history.
The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.
The IPBES also learned that at least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century, and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.
Our societies are affected by this loss of biodiversity. In addition to losing livestock diversity and ecosystem services, all the different cultures of our world are rooted in their natural environment and can suffer grievously by losing plants and animals that define their cultural identities.
“The world is clearly eager for urgent action to protect nature,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in a press release before the conference. “And we have no time to spare. Together we must ultimately deliver a truly historic agreement that puts us firmly on the path to living in harmony with nature.”
To prevent future loss of biodiversity while promoting human prosperity, the Convention holds three main objectives: The conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity); the sustainable use of components of biological diversity; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Monitoring approach and risk assessment
Over the course of the meetings, the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) compiled mechanisms to measure improvement in health and biodiversity over the next decade. As told by the CDB secretariate, the SBSTTA’s meeting was to try to advance discussions on a monitoring approach for the post-2020 framework. This included marine and coastal biodiversity, biodiversity and agriculture, biodiversity and health, and invasive alien species.
Other issues included synthetic biology, living modified organisms risk assessment and management, and the work programme of the IPBS.
“Currently biodiversity does not have what climate has,” said Anne Larigauderie of the IPBES. Unlike the issue of climate change, biodiversity does not have a world network of research stations with uniform methods for national and international reporting. “For biodiversity, we have bits and pieces, but there is no operational system in an intergovernmental way.”
The IPBES has a blueprint of what this system could like, the type of methods and measurements they could use, and the data centres required to collect them. “The conversation this week needs to elevate this so that governments have buy-in and really establish an inter-governmental process in order to implement the vision of the scientists.”
Discussing issues varying from preserving soil health to reducing the amount of man-made noise pollution in the ocean, the SBSTTA worked to find uniform “indicators,” or data that are used to measure success in their different goals. Each issue has its own indicator, and each indicator needs to be reliable and measurable on a global level and a national level.
Finance for biodiversity
Meanwhile, the Subsidiary Body in Implementation (SBI) focused on policy decisions and financial means to apply SBSTTA’s strategies. It would try to complete its work on key inputs to the post-2020 framework and lay a firm foundation for the adoption and implementation at the COP15. SBI works to ensure the framework mobilizes and scales up finance for biodiversity, better aligns investments with the needs of nature and people, and facilitates the disclosure of risks and impacts for nature.
At the beginning of the Convention, the SBI reviewed how the goals of the last decade and created strategies to improve success for the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. The UN reports that from 2011 to 2020, the world failed to meet any of their proposed targets.
They then strategized on how resources, both financial and scientific, could be mobilized to ensure implementation over the next decade. SBI structured guidance for the Global Environmental Facility, a subsidiary of the World Bank, to disperse $4-5 billion dollars per year to developing nations working to accomplish the Framework goals.
SBI also focused on means to repurpose $500 billion normally spent in farm subsidies to instead fund biodiversity-positive programs. Finance for Biodiversity, a foundation representing 90 financial institutions committed to action on biodiversity, is an observer member of the Convention and contributed the perspective of the financial sector to the negotiations.
“The reality is that all business and financial institutions are already having a major impact on biodiversity, and these must urgently be identified, reduced and reversed,” said Sonya Likthman, FFB representative. “The Global Diversity Framework, while primarily targeting governments, must stimulate action from all stakeholders including the financial sector.”
The final meeting co-occurring with the SBI and SBSTTA is the Working Group on Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. Over the past two years, the Working Group has met via Zoom to draft what the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework will include, from its major goals of what they want to achieve by 2030 and 2050 to targets in the interim and the structures needed to support them.
This group spent a lot of time focusing on the second goal of the Convention, the sustainable use of components of biological diversity. National representatives discussed the draft Targets associated with this issue and came up with new ideas on how biodiversity can be protected while ensuring that local communities can fulfil their well-being by accessing necessary resources.
Digital sequence information
During the meeting, the Working Group spent time discussing what’s known as “Digital Sequence Information” or DSIs.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “the term ‘DSI’ currently has no agreed definition.” It’s a catch-all with a meaning that changes depending on which scientific circle is using it—in this case, it suggests the use of basic genetic information from a plant or animal, from DNA to RNA or the proteins being produced in a specimen. DSIs could even include local knowledge of a plant or animal’s useful properties.
David Ainsworth, the Information Officer for the Convention, reports that countries that often provide genetic resources want DSI regulations to be resolved at the same time as the Global Biodiversity Framework, saying, “If we don’t resolve the DSI, we cannot agree to a global biodiversity framework.”
DSIs veer into the final objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity: the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. For example, if a rare plant is discovered in a remote community and a company is interested in the plant’s qualities, they would have to inform the community about its proposed project and create an “access and benefit-sharing” arrangement that both the community and the company would consent to.
As one of the most biodiverse countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand is vulnerable to biodiversity loss. Currently, over 500 animal species and 1,000 plant species are currently threatened, according to its CBD sixth national report.
For Thailand, this Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework could yield good results. The Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, in collaboration with the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board and public organization Biodiversity-Based Economy Development Office, created a “Master Plan for Integrated Biodiversity Management.”
Used from 2015 to 2021, the Master Plan focused on the management of ecosystem services; green economy based sustainable development; conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity (including equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources); and good governance. It included four strategies, eleven measures, and forty national biodiversity targets.
These values are closely held and replicated in the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework and should bolster Thailand’s efforts in protecting biodiversity by providing international structure and support. The country is also in the process of developing its new strategy, to be in line with the framework.
The CBD meetings will be wrapped up next week, and their outcomes and implications on Thailand’s biodiversity strategy will be reported here.
Vanessa Moss is an awardee of Planet Forward and Tennessee Williams Award for Creative Writing in 2020. She is also a travel fellow of the National Association of Science Writers, and a member of the US based Society of Environmental Journalists.