The Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework (GBF) was agreed upon at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held in December 2022. The Framework envisions 4 goals and 23 targets to be achieved by 2030, including the aims of protecting 30% of the Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, inland waters, reducing by $500 billion annual harmful government subsidies and cutting food waste in half. This piece talks briefly about its role in the conversation regarding biodiversity today.
Why Biodiversity is Important
The biological diversity of an area interacts heavily with its physical environment, implying that the extinction of a species can trigger off events to drastically change the entire landscape and vice versa. Due to human activities combined with climate change, there is a large-scale extinction of species occurring as we speak. Afterall, the amount of biodiversity in an area is associated with the amount of land available for it to thrive upon. With increasing population pressures on land, decline in land fertility due to high levels of use, it is becoming increasingly important to set aside some land for the preservation of biodiversity.
Conserving biodiversity is essential for attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. SDGs 14 (Life Below Water) and 15 (Life on Land) directly aim to protect natural habitats from pollution and degradation, preserve and restore natural ecosystems and prevent poaching or overexploitation of wildlife, especially protected species. Other goals such as SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) are also intricately linked with biodiversity. For example, the preservation of natural ecosystems helps in increasing soil fertility, improving productivity through pollination and improving the quality of the produce. Similarly, preserving biodiversity and ecosystems helps in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, thus contributing towards the 2 degree target, i.e, limiting global warming to less than two degrees celsius compared to the pre-industrial level, by 2100. Previously, the legislature to meet these goals has failed to do its part and it is important to understand why, in order to prevent obsolete policies in the future.
Failure to Meet the Aichi Biodiversity Goals
The Kunming-Montreal GBF was preceded by the Aichi Biodiversity targets from 2011 - 2020. The world failed to meet even a single target under the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity targets. Currently 15% and 8% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas respectively are under some protection, below the targeted 17% and 10%. Only 6 of the 20 goals were even partially met. Not a single country has met all the targets. The main takeaway of the experience, according to experts, has been that highly aspirational yet vaguely framed agendas are difficult to communicate and implement upon.
(The detailed UN report here: https://www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo5/publication/gbo-5-en.pdf)
Main Features of the New Framework
Upon the backdrop of this failure, the new framework attempts to cover up and has significantly forwarded its objectives. The 30x30 target to protect and conserve at least 30% of the world’s lands and marine areas by 2030 is a landmark declaration. However, some suggest that the number is still low, and much more efforts are needed to reverse biodiversity loss and not just stop it. The proclamations cover new ground in its visions and are backed by most important stakeholders, but they may not be quantified enough.
The countries agreed upon a Global Biodiversity Fund mobilizing finances for developing countries raised by developed nations. They also provisioned for funding rising to at least $20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least $30 billion per year by 2030. While this is much lower than the desired $60 - 100 billion, it is a good start.
An important breakthrough was the decision to develop an equitable funding mechanism on Digitized Genetic Information (DSI). A multilateral mechanism for equitable benefit-sharing from DSI use, without prejudice to national access and benefit-sharing measures, shall be set up. Also unique to the Kunming-Montreal GBF is the commitment to gender equality in the implementation of the framework “through a gender-responsive approach”. However, the goal of preserving biodiversity can often fall in contrast to the conditions necessary for economic growth, which are equally important for maintaining the welfare of citizens.
Agriculture and Food Security
A case in point is evident in India: An important part of the agreement was to phase out government subsidies for the agriculture sector which is responsible for 70% of terrestrial biodiversity loss. For instance, while the Green revolution in the 1970s enabled the country to grow economically and improve food security, India lost almost 1 lakh varieties of indigenous rice in the process. Further, the introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have resulted in the contamination of groundwater. Over-irrigation has severely depleted the ground water level. However, it shall be very challenging to phase out subsidies in India, where agriculture is heavily dependent on them.
The Time To Act
The Kunming-Montreal GBF came as a watershed moment in the history of biodiversity conservation efforts. It has been hailed as the ‘Paris moment’ of biodiversity. The goals and targets included in the framework are ambitious yet indispensable for a better future. While the consensus is not complete, the document is a milestone in the negotiations. It is essential, however, that the land is used judiciously, with consultation of all the stakeholders involved. Now is the time for leaders to ensure that the goals are implemented, before the damage is irreversible.