What really happened during the crucial Geneva negotiations on biodiversity? | Biodiversity

For talks supposed to focus on halting the mass extinction of life on Earth, the slow pace of negotiations in Geneva ahead of COP15, the major biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, later this year, was not not a hopeful sign that meaningful action would follow. As talks drew to a close this week, little progress was made on targets and goals meant to herald nature’s “Paris moment.”

Rhetoric from wealthy developed countries about the need for ambition to halt biodiversity loss has not been matched with resources, complained negotiators from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Once again, much was being asked of the developing world without financial assistance to implement the change deemed necessary by nations that long ago cleared their forests, drained their wetlands and polluted their rivers to industrialize. .

Governments have never met their own targets for halting the destruction of ecosystems despite dire scientific warnings about species extinctions and the consequences for humans. But many world leaders have suggested this decade’s global biodiversity framework will be different, acknowledging scientists’ warning that humanity must solve the climate and natural crises together or solve neither. .

Last September, French President Emmanuel Macron told a conservation summit in Marseille that there was “no vaccine for a sick planet”. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the Davos summit last year that the world needed a Paris agreement for nature. The UK has put forests and wetlands at the heart of its COP26 Presidency in Glasgow, signing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature in September 2020 as part of “meaningful action” on nature.

But the failure of rich countries to provide at least $100 billion a year in climate finance to the developing world at COP26 in Glasgow has undermined trust and this is rippling through the biodiversity process.

During the final plenary session in Geneva on Tuesday, Gabon – speaking on behalf of the Africa Group, Brazil, India and other developing countries, also supported by China – called on developed countries to s commit to providing $100bn (£76bn) a year in biodiversity funding from public and non-public sources, which would reach $700bn by 2030, closing the ‘nature funding gap’ .

The representative of Gabon said: “This must be new, complementary and distinct from the funding that has been committed under the UNFCCC and the Paris agreement. The current architecture of global biodiversity finance should be transformed.

The Aichi targets for 2010, agreed in Japan in the wake of the global financial crisis, failed in part because of a lack of resources for the deal, experts say. This time, Covid-19, rising inflation and the war in Ukraine are all significant obstacles to more money for nature, even though more than half of the world’s GDP relies on high-functioning biodiversity.

An African negotiator said: “To get out of this deadlock between developing and developed countries, we need something transformative, but it won’t be like the climate.

“Developing countries simply will not compromise their sovereignty over their trees, their soils, their people and their right to develop to the extent that they would be willing to do for climate change,” they said.

A western lowland gorilla in Ivindo National Park in Gabon in 2019. Progress has been made in Geneva on how to protect biodiversity areas. Photography: Amaury Hauchard/AFP/Getty

The latest plenary session also saw a long stalemate on biopiracy, which some fear could wreck the whole deal, as developing countries demand they be paid for drug discovery and research. other commercial products based on their biodiversity.

This, along with targets on money, protected areas, restoration, pesticides and plastics, will be discussed at an additional meeting in Nairobi in June ahead of COP15 in Kunming. Then it will be up to governments whether or not to back up their rhetoric with actions at the summit.


Progress… finally
After months of Zoom meetings and false starts, Geneva provided the moment when negotiators met for in-person talks for the first time since March 2020.

There were a lot of disagreements, but the time spent together – as well as drinking and eating under the Geneva sun – helped to give some momentum to the process. Small steps towards COP15 have finally been taken.

Governments agree on negotiating text
When talks began in mid-March, negotiators could have rejected the entire draft text and contested the targets and goals that will constitute the global biodiversity framework for this decade. This does not happen.

While delegates left Geneva with much of the text bracketed, governments agreed on a stable negotiating text. It will include targets on subsidies, protected areas and invasive species. Ambition now belongs to the negotiators.

Companies demand more
While the role of big business in a UN environmental process is often to be treated with skepticism, the Business for Nature coalition has taken an active role in the negotiations, with companies such as H&M urging governments to agree on a target for nature-related mandatory disclosures for businesses.

If this is to be a transformative time for nature, all parts of society must sign up, including businesses big and small.

The bad

Will COP15 in Kunming ever take place?
While the Cop15 must be held in Kunming, China assumes for the first time the presidency of a major international conference on the environment. Yet despite assurances from the UN that the summit would take place at the end of August, Beijing has still not told countries when Cop15 will take place, how they will get there and how their zero Covid policy could affect the summit.

Rumors of charter flights and a Winter Olympics-style bubble have spread in Geneva, but only the Chinese presidency really knows what’s going on.

Ambition and action stay miles apart
Ahead of last weekend, WWF, RSPB and other leading conservation organizations warned that “progress is far from sufficient” in a joint statement, pointing to a “yawning gap” between the draft agreement and the dark picture described by science.

Most scientists agree that humanity is behind the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, the worst loss of life on the planet since the days of the dinosaurs. Yet the political energy spent on biodiversity negotiations is still lacking and remains overshadowed by climate talks.

The ugly one

The risk of a “Copenhagen moment” for biodiversity is growing
While a complete collapse of the talks remains unlikely, the specter of a “Copenhagen moment” on biodiversity – a reference to the collapse of the 2009 climate talks in the Danish capital – lurks in Kunming.

There is major disagreement over money and the use of digital sequence information (DSI) of genetic biodiversity, known as biopiracy. Negotiators and the Chinese government will have to work hard in the coming months to avoid a disastrous scenario where no final agreement on the text can be reached.

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