Thought leadership

  • Date 08 February 2023
  • Words by Leo Murphy
  • Reading time 5 mins

COP15 – worth the wait?

Initially scheduled for 2020 and billed as the ‘Super Year for Nature’, COP 15 has seen both delays and venue changes, but in Montreal in December it certainly felt that the effort to get there neither dulled the enthusiasm nor the urgency.

We had to wait a long time for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15).  Following the collective failure to achieve a single one of the Aichi targets set in 2010, the conference centre was buzzing with talk of a new, ambitious framework, tempered with warnings that this was our last chance to turn the tide on nature loss.

 

“The time has come to change the trajectory of our planet, and, in turn the future of humankind”

Elizabeth Maruma Mremba – Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity

 

It wasn’t all plain sailing. There were sticking points, there were walk-outs, and there were late night crisis talks. The negotiations mirrored the ups and downs of the World Cup with which they had to compete for attention – delegates’ laptops were often as likely to be tuned in to the football as the draft text. But, after two intense weeks, we finally have it.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) outlines a vision for 2050 for “a world of living in harmony with nature” consisting of 4 goals and 23 targets and there is plenty to be encouraged by:

  • 30×30

This was the main headline following the GBF agreement. A target to protect 30% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030. This was a huge step up in ambition. The global protected area network currently covers just 15.8% of land and 8.2% of sea. It therefore requires governments to expand national protected area networks substantially, while at the same time increasing support for Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), such as land managed by Indigenous Peoples and intergovernmental cooperation to protect the high seas, the so-called Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

  • Restoration

Less publicised, but equally as important as the 30×30 target for protection, is the commitment to ensure 30% of degraded areas are under restoration by 2030. Biodiversity is not just found in our national parks, it exists in our farmland, our cities and our gardens; so, achieving this target requires a much wider group of stakeholders, from governments to local communities, civil society and particularly the private sector. Human activity has been the driver of degradation and it will take innovative, ambitious and collaborative approaches to deliver effective restoration at the targeted scale.

  • Climate and Nature

Mirroring the discussions at UNFCCC’s COP27 in November, there is recognition of the interlinked nature of climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as the opportunities presented by tackling these crises together. A target was agreed focusing on Nature-based Solutions to tackle climate mitigation and adaptation.

  • Financing

While there was strong consensus on what was needed, there was, as always, much more debate as to exactly how and who is to pay for it. The biodiversity funding gap is currently estimated at $700bn per year and parties had noticeably different views on how this could be overcome. In the end, a number of targets were agreed. Target 18 aims at a phasing out of at least $500bn of harmful subsidies (think agriculture and fossil fuels, amongst others) by 2030 with the intention of rerouting subsidies towards positive outcomes. Building on this, Target 19 aims to mobilise $200bn per year, including an explicit reference to at least $30bn per year coming from developed to developing countries by 2030. Importantly, this funding is to be mobilised from all sources, including private finance.

 

COP15 Meant Business

 

Unlike the UNFCCC’s climate COPs, the CBD has not traditionally attracted engagement from the private sector. This all changed at COP15. More than 1,000 private sector delegates were in attendance, up from around 50 four years ago, and there was representation across agriculture and forestry, extractives, finance, tech and more.

 

“Businesses and investors must be allies of nature, not enemies”

António Guterres – UN Secretary General

 

They came with a message which, in a rare invitation to take the floor during negotiations, Eva Zabey, Business for Nature’s Executive Director, articulated clearly, “the aim must be high, not the lowest common denominator, we know it’s not easy but leading businesses and financial institutions are behind you”.

The CBD accommodated this new interest with a range of events from a Business & Finance Hub to the Business and Biodiversity Forum, and the CBD’s first official finance day. These enabled private sector delegates to cover countless topics, but a few stood out in terms of the interest they generated and the consistency with which they were discussed.

  • Make It Mandatory

The Make it Mandatory campaign was a call for the GBF, supported by 330 businesses and financial institutions, to create a level playing field by ensuring Target 15 requires businesses to assess and then disclose their impacts and dependencies upon nature. In the end “mandatory” was dropped from the GBF text in favour of less concrete “encourage, enable and ensure”. However, the fact that large businesses were present and calling for disclosure means this omission is unlikely to slow the momentum and is only reinforced by the ongoing developed of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure which will provide a framework for implementation.

  • Aligning Financial Flows

In the coming decades, a key challenge for the private sector is to create incentives for businesses to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity and to penalise those continuing to degrade the natural world. Talk between financial institutions present at COP15 focused heavily on how they can support this with a dual approach of financing green and greening finance.  In particular, we saw the announcement of the Nature Action 100, an initiative of 11 financial institutions looking to identify the 100 top companies for engagement on nature-related impacts and dependencies.

  • Biodiversity Credits

The potential for biodiversity credits to create a mechanism through which to finance the protection and restoration of nature was raised with a frequency and consistency that many found surprising given the innate challenges and the nascency of the space. There is clear alignment between private sector actors, that a biodiversity credit market should learn from the challenges of the voluntary carbon market. While several methodologies are developing for exactly how to measure the uplifts in biodiversity that will underpin the credits, what is clear is that the vision is for a market that provides voluntary, positive contributions to biodiversity, rather than offsets used to justify its loss elsewhere. It will now be important to follow developments in biodiversity measurement to ensure credits are credible and to create a compelling business case to ensure a voluntary market large enough to deliver the change needed.

 

Nature’s Paris Moment?

 

In the lead up to COP15 there was optimism amongst many that the agreement of an ambitious GBF could provide nature with its ‘Paris’ moment, a readily understood target around which action could gravitate. Now, after the dust has settled the question is, did we get it?

The short answer to that is probably not, however there has been significant progress towards it.

We now have a headline objective for the short term which is clear and easily understood. We need to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. What is lacking is a quantitative target in the way that climate has 1.5°C, but biodiversity is always going to be more complex and there is no single metric. We were therefore hoping for agreement on a limited suite of high-level metrics that would help guide action at a global scale. We have some, for example 30×30, but many of the targets lack a quantitative aspect. For some that was to be expected, but for others they were regrettably chipped away during negotiation. What will be key therefore is how these targets are taken from the GBF and translated and implemented at national level.

For the private sector, clear inclusion of targets for businesses and the acknowledgement of the role of private finance, coupled with the growing interest in TNFD and the potential of biodiversity credits means that we should remain optimistic. COP15 has created an enabling environment for the private sector to take the lead and demonstrate what can be achieved.

It is however worth noting that private sector engagement was not universally celebrated, with many across civil society viewing it with a (for the most part) healthy scepticism. From my own perspective it has been a giant step forward to see the increased level of engagement from the private sector, but what is  key will be to ensure that it works with, not against, other actors, in particular recognising the important voices coming from youth, women, and indigenous communities.

By the time we convene in Turkey for COP16 in 2024, we hope that the private sector can return to showcase a shift of finance towards nature positive activities, the halting of destructive practices and adoption of business models that help restore biodiversity while supporting the local communities who depend upon it.

 

Leo Murphy Impact Manager

Personal Reflection

 

As my first attendance at a COP, biodiversity or climate, it was a privilege to be part of developing the ambition for the next 30 years via the GBF. Access to the negotiations gave me a greater understanding of just what it takes to secure agreement between 196 parties with a variety of needs and interests: never have I heard the words “in the spirit of compromise” used so often. While there will rightfully be some disappointment that the agreement didn’t go further, attendance at side-events and discussions with other observers has given me confidence that the GBF can represent the floor, not the ceiling of our ambitions for nature.

In addition, it was an exciting time to be part of the Climate Asset Management family, with COP15 coinciding with our announcement of initial commitments of more than USD $650m for natural capital projects. I participated in a number of panels focusing on Nature Positive and what this means for the private sector.   I was much encouraged by the interest shown through engagement with companies and financial institutions in how our investment strategies can help deliver meaningful contributions towards that goal.

As we start 2023, we finally have the framework to halt and reverse nature loss. I am looking forward to an exciting year with Climate Asset Management.  We continue to participate in the development of the TNFD and will continue to deploy and grow our Natural Capital and Nature-based Carbon strategies, delivering landscape transformation projects at scale, that bring clear benefits for climate, people, and nature.

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