Why There Are High Hopes From the Nairobi UN Biodiversity Meeting

Delegates meeting in a conference hall at the United Nations to negotiate biodiversity issues.
The Wire
Nairobi, Kenya

Why There Are High Hopes From the Nairobi UN Biodiversity Meeting

For the fourth time, beginning June 21, representatives from 196 countries are sitting together to discuss the best plans and a post-2020 framework to save the shrinking biodiversity of our unwell planet, under the banner of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, director of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said before the meeting was set to begin: “The treaty is beyond conservation and extends to the sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the equitable sharing of resources to all.”

What began in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, when countries pledged for a better environment, is also celebrating its 30th anniversary. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said, “Though 30 years have passed and we are still discussing the text, a lot has also been achieved.” According to her, the state of biodiversity could have been worse without the convention’s regulations in place.

The last targets signed by parties at Aichi in Japan in 2010 were supposed to reduce the biodiversity loss, promote sustainable use, enhance benefits from ecosystem services and have the various stakeholders engage further. The Aichi targets which were planned for 2011-2020, and lapsed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Since then, the parties to the Convention have been trying to work on a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – a plan that will help reach 21 action targets and 10 milestones by 2030.

While the GBF was supposed to be a plan for 2020-2030, the pandemic has already pushed the timeline by two years. Targets that were to be achieved in 10 years have to be achieved in eight. But Basile van Havre, the co-chair for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Open-Ended Working Group, is optimistic. There was a hiatus but governments never stopped working towards biodiversity, he said.

The underlying document has already been prepared but still contains multiple unresolved issues that the parties have to discuss now and arrive at consensuses on. Before the ongoing Convention, the parties had met thrice, in Rome, Nairobi and Geneva.

Havre said that the current GBF is different from the Aichi targets as policymakers have tried to make the targets more practical and realistic than ambitious.

The unresolved issues in the GBF include the matters of access and benefit sharing and digital sequence information in developing and biodiverse countries like India.

The document aspires to avail $200 billion per year to help the world’s countries conserve their biodiversity; reduce ‘harmful’ subsidies for biodiversity by $500 billion per year; and increase the availability of funds by $10 billion every year. But questions remain on who will make this money available and how.

Access and benefit sharing (ABS) refers to those who protect our natural resources – Indigenous and local people – also having access to the benefits accrued when governments, corporations and researchers commercialize those resources or use them to develop medicines and other goods. So developing countries will closely watch the Convention for how ABS negotiations proceed, vis-à-vis cross-country enterprises.

An important subset of these talks will be digital sequence information – i.e. digitized information about the genetic characteristics of a plant, an animal or any other bio-ecological entity. In India, specimens of some animals can’t be taken out of the country without the government’s permission, but the protections on the genetic information of that animal are much less clear.

Since such information can be used to synthesize new compounds of commercial value, to take one example, ensuring the profits from selling that compound are shared with the country of origin is also important.

The working group meeting in Nairobi is the last one before the COP-15 talks in Montreal, scheduled for December this year. In Nairobi, the parties are aiming to resolve as many contentions as possible in the GBF so that the Montreal deliberations are as smooth as possible.

This story was produced as part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, led by Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published in The Wire Science on 23 June 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Banner image: A view of the plenary session of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 GBF, March 2022. Photo: Convention on Biological Diversity, CC BY 2.0

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