The Convention on Biological Diversity. Does it live in a parallel world?




With the World Economic Forum  (WEF) just started I thought id share the WEF top five global risks. As they are all related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) .

In Rio in 1992 the Earth Summit agreed two conventions – on climate change and biodiversity. It was also the birth place for what became a series of other legal agreements the:
  • Desertification Convention,
  • Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement,
  • Persistent and Organic Pollutants agreement, and
  • Prior Informed Consent agreement.

As some of you know this year, we will have two very important Conferences of the Parties (COP).  These are the two Rio Conventions.

The UNFCCC COP will be in Glasgow to review the progress towards the Paris Climate commitments and to hopefully ratchet up to higher commitments. I will write about the Glasgow UNFCCC on another occasion and my frustration with the political action.

The second COP that of the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet in October in Kunming, China to set new Biodiversity Goals and Targets.

To refresh the reader the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were originally set in Nagoya COP in 2010 and hybrid versions of them were adopted as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.

It has become increasingly clear over the last year, even to the general public, that we have a huge crisis both in dealing with stopping climate change and in reversing the extinction of species.

Since 1992 a huge amount of work has been put in to ensure that we have the scientific evidence that these are critical issues. In both cases the science has warned us what was happening and the politicians have not heeded those warnings to the level that was clearly needed. If anything, the scientists under-estimated the changes that were happening. The politicians have consistently underperformed assuming the problems would not fall into their time in power and so why put the extra effort in.

This article is focusing on what has now been released the Zero draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. A vital step towards governments agreeing a set of targets and goals up to 2050 with interim targets by 2030 to keep them in line with the SDG timeline. By the way the choice of 2050 might preempt governments to think about the post 2030 goals and targets being also to 2050. Overall let me say it’s a good document and under the leadership of Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the Acting Executive Secretary the secretariat is in very good hands. Of course the ambition isn’t to the level that it should be but that often is the case with a zero draft.

Goals and Targets
First, it's good to ground what we mean by goals and targets and for that matter indicators as too often they are mixed up. Goals describe what you want to accomplish, a target is the numerical value that you want to improve by and an indicator is something that helps you understand where you are in delivering the target and allows you to measure your delivery of a target.

Theory of Change
The decision to have a theory of change approach is a very important development in the context of developing policy. This has been sorely missed I would argue since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The proposed framework being put forward to help deliver the goals has a very similar approach to Agenda 21.

Agenda 21’s biodiversity chapter had a structure of
·       Basis for Action
·       Objectives (Goals)
·       Activities
o   Management-related activities
o   Data and information
o   International and regional cooperation and coordination
·       Means of Implementation
o   Financing and cost evaluation
o   Scientific and technological means
o   Human resource development
o   Capacity-building
It’s difficult to think of another UN negotiated text where this has happened. There had been an attempt by G77 during the SDG negotiations to do something similar under each goal. These targets became the alphabet targets but were not uniform in the approach to what they needed to address.
In the proposed framework for the 2030-2050 is:
·       2050 Vision
·       2030 and 2050 Goals
·       2030 Mission
·       2030 action targets
o   Reducing threats to biodiversity
o   Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing
o   Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming
·       Implementation support mechanisms
·       Enabling conditions
·       Responsibility and transparency
·       Outreach, awareness and uptake

For Agenda 21 the UN secretariat was asked to estimate how much it would cost to implement each of the chapters of Agenda 21. So, one of the critical missing sections in the zero draft is on financing and cost evaluation. Let us just review the 1992 Agenda 21 Biodiversity chapter text said on this:
“Conference secretariat has estimated the average total annual cost (1993-2000) of implementing the activities of this chapter to be about $3.5 billion, including about $1.75 billion from the international community on grant or concessional terms. These are indicative and order-of-magnitude estimates only and have not been reviewed by Governments. Actual costs and financial terms, including any that are non-concessional, will depend upon, inter alia, the specific strategies and programmes Governments decide upon for implementation.” (Agenda 21, 1992)

One of the problems with the SDGs is that we also didn’t have an analysis of what the funding for each goal/target might be and where that money might come from. It had been hoped that the Financing for Development process might do that for each goal, but it did not.

In the follow up process to Agenda 21 the newly established UN Commission on Sustainable Development had as its responsibilities in its first ten years that of reviewing governments commitments to these funding targets. This ultimately at Rio+5 (1997) became a reason why governments in the run up to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development increased ODA as it was clear that it was going down not increasing. Something like this needs to happen at the CBD and for that matter for the SDGs. 

Drivers of change
Again, it was refreshing to see some of the key drivers of change being identified – these are not new and formed the basis of the backdrop to the Rio+20 conference in 2012 but worth underlining here they are:
·       Population
·       Urbanization
·       Resource demand

In addition, the impacts of climate – all of these have also been part of the Nexus discussions on food-energy-water. Recognition of drivers enables approaches to those drivers to be identified and action taken.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the CBD
This is where a have a problem. For those reading this blog/article that have followed the issue since I first raised it in a paper in November 2017, they will know my concerns ones which I raised again in 2018 and in 2019 as did WWF in 2019.

One of the serious concerns that both papers raise is that of creating two different processes and by doing so reducing the political focus on the biodiversity targets. At this point there is no attempt to link the suggested targets to the SDGs. Will this create a parallel world where the biodiversity community lives and will it massively reduce the political will to address these huge issues as environment departments in governments are very weak. The SDG agenda requires joined up government thinking and policy development – the biodiversity community may be opting out of that and there is a huge chance that will imapct on the delivery of these new proposed taregts.

There are twenty three targets in the SDGs that fall either in 2020 or 2025. The paper I did with Prof Jamie Bartram and Gastón Ocampo suggested four options for addressing how to integrate or not any new targets.

Options Analysis
From that paper:
Identifying a future course of action for each affected target will depend in part on SDG-wide policies and approaches; and in part on target-specific context, such as the existence of a treaty or other process.  Alignment between these two influences will vary target-by-target. 

One of us (FD) consulted the UN Agencies and Programmes listed in Table 2 and presented an earlier version of this table to the government Friends of Governance for Sustainable Development (FGSD, 2017) workshop on November 2nd 2017 (updated in 2018 and 2019) to solicit their thinking on what to do with the affected targets. The four-principal option-types, there and associated principal advantages and disadvantages, and target-specific options described here are synthesized from that process.

Option 1: That no updated targets will be added to the SDGs to replace those that have expired and monitoring and reporting will conclude at the date of the target.
Pros: The agreement on the SDGs and their targets was one that had balanced the interests of all member states and reopening this could cause that balance to be fractured
Cons: Some of the targets will be updated by other forums and so then there will be refection of progress reported to the HLPF in line with the new target. This will be particularly relevant to the CBD and SAICM targets.

Option 2: That no updated targets will be added to the SDGs to replace those that have fallen but there will be continued monitoring of the indicators, and reporting on progress if the target conditions have not been achieved.
Pros: the agreement on the SDGs and their targets was one that had balanced the interests of all member states and reopening this could cause that balance to be fractured. It also allows reporting on the targets even if other forums have changed them
Cons: These not updated targets will not have been absorbed into the SDG targets and so it creates two classes of targets. One which is in the SDGs and one that isn’t. In particular this is true for the CBD and SAICM targets. It may impact on the level of commitment to the new targets if they are not absorbed into the SDGs

Option 3: Any updated target would need to be agreed through the UN General Assembly if it was to replace an expiring target.
Pros: This option recognizes that the UN General Assembly had agreed the SDGs and their targets so is the only ‘official body’ that can update them
Cons: This could see the whole agreement reopen unless member states agree to recognize the agreements made in other forums. This still doesn’t address the targets that do not have other forums to set new targets. In these cases, option 2 could continue

Option 4: That any updated target agreed by a relevant UN body substitutes the old target without going through renegotiation in the UN General Assembly. Where there is no authoritative UN body then it is done through the UN General Assembly.
Pros: This would address all of the targets that are going to finish in 2020 and 2025
Cons: This would open up the SDG targets negotiations to Committee 2 of the UNGA to address those that have no plans to be replaced and this could be a difficult negotiation

Final thoughts
In most cases, there are processes that will recommend continuation, modification, abandonment or replacement of expiring targets such as the CBD and SAICM.

The real problem with this is if this is outside the SDG machinery, I strongly believe that we will see the emergence of two classes of targets and ultimately indicators.

This has the potential to threaten the overall cohesion of the SDG enterprise and as crisis on Infinite Earths, which by the way has just finished on CW TV. Do we really at this critical time for both biodiversity and climate want to take the chance that we are creative different chances to move to an integrated sustainable path for all of us?



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