Back in 2010, the global environmental community celebrated the adoption of a landmark decision of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It established a new work plan1 from 2011 to 2020, implemented through the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as part of an overarching framework on biodiversity for the entire United Nations system.
Today, close to the end of the 10-year work plan, evidence shows, that the actions undertaken to implement it, have not been sufficient, to achieve the Targets, and that further urgent and effective action is required, to reduce the pressure on biodiversity. The mid-term assessment toward the attainment of the Targets showed that no Target was on track, to be completely met, with the exception of Target 16 on the Nagoya Protocol. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform, at its sixth plenary meeting, approved a set of regional and sub-regional assessments of biodiversity and ecosystem services and provided summaries for policymakers. Although all emphasize the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, they also observe that the pressures on biodiversity across regions continue to increase, including: climate change, invasive alien species, pollution, and unsustainable use.2
The recent Global Assessment on Biodiversity, developed by the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and approved during its seventh plenary session in Paris, is one of the most comprehensive assessments of its kind. It confirms the decline of nature at an unprecedented rate in human history with an alarming one million species already facing extinction.
The key messages clearly state that nature is providing more food, energy, and materials to people than ever, but at the expense of its ability to do so in the future. Adding to this, the assessment provides clear examples of the unequal distribution of nature’s provisions to people. Perhaps one of the most alarming cases is food production: while there is enough to satisfy global needs, 11% of the world’s population is undernourished.
It is worth highlighting that the Summary for Policy Makers uses straight-forward language to describe the drivers of nature’s decline: continued population growth, increasing purchasing power and per capita consumption. It clearly states that ‘business as usual’ is not possible any longer and underlines the urgent need of substantial shifts towards market reforms.
In 2020, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) should adopt a new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which could represent a new opportunity to respond to these urgent crises. Decision 14/343, adopted in Sharm El Sheik at COP 14, sets out the process toward COP 15. It establishes an open-ended, inter-sessional working group to support the preparation of the post-2020 GBF and invites the General Assembly of the United Nations to convene a high-level biodiversity summit in 2020 at the level of Heads of State/ Heads of Government. The decision also frames the roadmap under a number of principles and establishes a consultation process open to civil society. This includes the possibility of attending regional consultation meetings and, through submissions, providing inputs to the discussion documents prepared by the Secretariat of the Convention.
Civil society has relevant influence in the CBD
It is fair to recognize, that the CBD is largely open to civil society, but we should not lose sight that when a door opens for rights-holders and stakeholders, it is possible for an even larger one to open for private interests. The influence of corporations in UN environmental bodies is clear and, unfortunately, growing in the CBD. In 2017, a group of civil society organizations alerted that a biotechnology PR firm had hired a number of people to participate in an online expert forum organized by the CBD Secretariat who were to provide guidance and advise on Synthetic Biology.4 Evidence showed that although these people were nominated as independent experts, they were clearly coordinated and guided to influence the discussions. Thanks to the prompt actions of civil society, COP 14 adopted a procedure for avoiding or managing conflicts of interest5 in working groups. This was an important step, indeed, but it is still not enough to stop and prevent the influence of corporations in the Convention as a whole.
In this scenario, the participation of civil society in the adoption of a new Global Biodiversity Framework is more relevant than ever. During the first round of submissions, several common issues were addressed by a number of organizations 6and include:
- The need to address the real drivers of biodiversity loss. This has shown low to moderate levels of progress under the so-called mainstreaming process within the Convention; a working group has been established recently, to work on a long-term plan of action.
- An effective accountability mechanism, which is absent not only in the CBD but in all major environmental agreements; a mechanism should be implemented to ensure that Parties comply with what they agree to.
- The criticism to the idea of including a voluntary-pledge system in the new GBF, similar to the Paris Agreement under the process of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Whereas some argue it could create the much needed political will, others claim, that this system has several disadvantages, including the unavoidable gap between what should be done and what Parties are willing to do.
Protecting life is a strong reason for a strong rights-based approach
One of the common ideas among several organizations is that the new Global Biodiversity Framework should have a strong rights-based approach and there are good reasons for that. The year 2017 was the deadliest on record for environmental defenders in the world, with at least 207 murdered, and with agribusiness being the industry most linked to killings, according to a Global Witness report.7 Although it is unconceivable that so many human lives are lost for the sake of profit, the same greed for money is leading several other species to extinction – at between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher the natural extinction rate. Who should protect them if they cannot speak on their own?
All species are interlinked. The fact that we cannot see the linkages or measure their so-called benefit or service to humanity does not mean that they do not contribute to the balance of our planet. A healthy environment is a human right in many different ways. It enables us to enjoy our basic rights, but also to live in peace. Increasing evidence shows that the loss of biodiversity and the deterioration and destruction of ecosystems lead to massive social and humanitarian crises, and even armed conflicts. A clear example is the extinction of Lake Chad in Africa, which has led to around 2 million people being displaced and has brought communities to such vulnerable states that, due to the competition for resources, armed conflicts have arisen.
A handful of technical elements are to be considered when adopting a new Global Biodiversity Framework, but if it is said that biodiversity is life, that should probably be the starting point when planning for it. In order to protect life, we need justice and concrete actions to shift away from the development pathways that threaten it.
 Global Witness. (2017). At What Cost? Irresponsible Business and the Murder of Land and Environmental Defenders in 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defen...