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Trade-related Outcomes From the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15)


Trade-related Outcomes From the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15)

Trade-related Outcomes From the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15)

Just two weeks after the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) came to a close, the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) commenced. The two-week-long meeting in Montreal Canada came two years later than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the second part of COP15, with the first part being concluded in a hybrid format in October 2021 in Kunming, China.

A key objective of the Biodiversity COP was to finalise and agree on global nature targets for 2030 and 2050. This was achieved in the form of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which contains four “overarching global” goals and 23 specific targets. The GBF’s goals and actionable targets are geared towards protecting biodiversity and curtailing the rapid decline of habitats and species.

Like COP27, finance to developing countries was one of the major issues. Unlike COP27, developing countries were unable to achieve their objective of establishing a separate fund financed by developed countries. The African group, among others, was pushing for the establishment of a “Global Biodiversity fund”, distinct from climate funding and development aid, to help developing countries, which are often the most biodiversity-rich, reach the global targets set by the new framework. Developing country groups, including the African group, wanted developed countries to mobilise $100bn a year for biodiversity[1]. Instead, the adopted text sets an annual target of $200bn by 2030 from all sources, including private and public sectors. The text calls for US$ 20 billion per year by 2025, and at least US$ 30 billion per year by 2030 to come from developed countries (including official development assistance).

One of the most contentious targets that made it into the GBF is Target 3, referred to colloquially as the “30x30” target. It is a ‘ratcheted’ up version of one that appeared in the Aichi targets, agreed at COP10 in 2010. It calls for the conservation of 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the ocean by 2030. This is seen as highly ambitious given that only 17% of the world’s terrestrial areas and 10% of the world’s marine areas are currently under protection[2].

Recognising the need for the macroeconomic processes that drive biodiversity loss need to be addressed, the framework also includes a target on trade. This is an entirely new addition as trade was not mentioned in the 2010 strategy. Target 5 of the GBF is to “Ensure that the use, harvesting and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal, preventing overexploitation, minimizing impacts on non-target species and ecosystems, and reducing the risk of pathogen spill-over, applying the ecosystem approach, while respecting and protecting customary sustainable use by indigenous peoples and local communities.”

The target speaks to findings that trade can be both a driver and a solution to biodiversity loss. A landmark study from 2012 found that, excluding invasive species, 30% of global species threats are due to international trade. The study found that for a significant number of threatened species, the threat comes from the demand in developed countries’ for commodities such as coffee, tea, sugar, textiles, and fish, that are ultimately produced in developing countries[3]. Other work, notably by UNCTAD’s BioTrade initiative, shows that trade can be instrumental in protecting species and habitats if bio-diversity-friendly practices are implemented along the value chains of goods and services derived from biodiversity[4].

Another trade-related feature in the framework is a target on subsidies. Target 18 calls on Parties to “Identify by 2025, and eliminate, phase out or reform incentives, including subsidies, harmful for biodiversity, in a proportionate, just, fair, effective and equitable way, while substantially and progressively reducing them by at least 500 billion United States dollars per year by 2030, starting with the most harmful incentives, and scale up positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.” Despite a very similar target being included in the 2011-2020 Aichi Targets, research shows that very few countries have made any meaningful progress in achieving it[5].

The recent subsidies target may stand a better chance at being met than its predecessor given that the World Trade Organization (WTO), which creates and enforces international rules on subsidies, has already taken a promising step towards tackling environmentally-harmful subsidies. At the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in June, an agreement on disciplining harmful Fisheries Subsidies was adopted; many saw it as a crucial step towards ending overfishing. However, it has been reported that negotiations resolving key features of the agreement have been stalled for the last six months as a result of disagreements over who will run them[6].

Like the Paris Agreement, achieving the GBF’s targets relies on countries constructing national action plans, reporting on their progress, reviewing their plans and voluntarily ratcheting up their ambitions. If the 2010 Strategic Plan is anything to go by, the GBF’s prospects of success are limited – while significant progress has been made on reaching some of the targets set in 2010, none have been fully achieved.[7] However, many are hopeful that the GBF has learnt from the failures of 2010. One of the 2010 strategies’ shortcomings is identified as ambiguously worded or vague targets; the GBF’s targets are arguably worded more clearly and many are more quantifiable. The new framework also includes more adequate means of quantifying progress, with much of the negotiations being centred around the monitoring framework.

A major and mostly unresolved hurdle to the framework’s success is the current finance gap of around US$4.1 trillion[8]. Achieving GBF’s targets will depend, among other things, on the willingness of higher-income countries and financial institutions to mobilise resources in support of conservation and restoration efforts in biodiversity-rich lower and middle-income countries.

[1] The Guardian. (2022). Cop15 in Montreal: did the summit deliver for the natural world? https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/20/cop15-montreal-did-it-deliver-for-natural-world-aoe

[2] Convention on Biological Diversity. (2022, December 19). COP15: Nations Adopt Four Goals, 23 Targets for 2030 In Landmark UN Biodiversity Agreement | Convention on Biological Diversity. https://www.cbd.int/article/cop15-cbd-press-release-final-19dec2022

[3] Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Kanemoto, K. et al. International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations. (2012). Nature 486, 109–112. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11145

[4] UNCTAD. (2021, May 21). Why trade must be part of the solution to biodiversity loss. https://unctad.org/news/why-trade-must-be-part-solution-biodiversity-loss

[5] Matthews, A. and K. Karousakis. (2022). Identifying and assessing subsidies and other incentives harmful to biodiversity: A comparative review of existing national-level assessments and insights for good practice. OECD Environment Working Papers, No. 206. Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/3e9118d3-en.

[6] Farge, E. (2022, December 20). WTO chief rebukes countries over stalled fishing negotiations. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/wto-chief-rebukes-countries-over-stalled-negotiations-2022-12-19/

[7] Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. (2020). Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal. https://www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo5/publication/gbo-5-en.pdf

[8] UNEP Finance Initiative. (2022, April 1). The Global Biodiversity Framework: why aligning financial flows is key – United Nations Environment – Finance Initiative. https://www.unepfi.org/themes/ecosystems/the-global-biodiversity-framework-why-aligning-financial-flows-is-key/

About the Author(s)

Gita Briel

Gita Briel is a former researcher at tralac. Her research interests include the trade-environment nexus, applied development economics, and global environmental governance.

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