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Biodiversity is moving up the global development agenda, following a major meeting of policymakers at the 12th Conference of Parties (COP12) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
With countries working on setting the next targets after the Millennium Development Goals, biodiversity is already included as one of the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UN draft working document agreed in July.
However, the current draft does not acknowledge biodiversity’s effects on global issues such as health, poverty and food security.
These effects took centre stage at the event in Pyeongchang, which was attended by around 3,000 delegates from 6-17 October.
“If we tackle poverty, inequality and environmental issues in separate silos, we can’t succeed. We have to have holistic approaches,” said UN Development Programme boss Helen Clark.
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the CBD, told environment ministers and other delegates that its 2010 biodiversity plan was critical. “We will not be able to achieve sustainable development if we do not implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity,” he said.
The plan estimated that US$150-440 billion a year was needed in biodiversity-related financial flows to reverse species and habitat loss, compared with the US$50 billion a year in 2010 being spent worldwide.
At the beginning of the COP12 event, the UN released a report showing progress was lagging on biodiversity goals known as Aichi targets set out in the CBD’s 2010 biodiversity plan.
For example, the key target of halving the rate of biodiversity loss, backed by a US$2.2 billion fund created at the 2010 COP meeting in Nagoya, Japan, is nowhere near being reached, according to projections in the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO4) report.
At a separate high-level meeting that took place on 16 and 17 October, ministers of the environment signed the so-called Gangwon declaration, pledging to double biodiversity-related funding for developing countries and maintain this level until 2020 to reach the Aichi biodiversity conservation targets.
Despite opposition from some larger developing countries, including India and Brazil, which cited budget constraints and the need to hold richer countries to their funding commitments, the meeting agreed that signatories should “mobilise domestic resources”. This breakthrough clause, unusual in UN documents, will mean that national budgets should give more priority to biodiversity issues.
Other areas falling well short included stemming species loss, habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution. And it seems that such declines as well as pressures on habitats are only growing, said Derek Tittensor, senior marine biodiversity scientist at the UN Environment Programme. “We’re making some effort, but, at the moment, we’re not seeing the benefits,” he told SciDev.Net.
“There has been an increase in resources and that is projected to continue into the future — that’s partly what has come out of the COP12 meeting in Korea — but the big question is whether that will be sufficient to arrest the decline in the state of biodiversity that we observed and projected,” he added.
Others, however, were more optimistic. GBO4 “is just a starting point”, said Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, acting executive director of international biodiversity research programme DIVERSITAS. “Some of the targets are very far from being able to be achieved by 2020. However, we also know there are lags between the time of starting actions on the ground and the time you get the fruits of them,” she told SciDev.Net.
‘Pyeongchang road map’
“It is my strong belief that these decisions will enable us to turn many of the indicators in GBO4 from yellow to green.”
Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, CBD
In total, the meeting adopted 33 decisions referred to collectively as the ‘Pyeongchang road map’.
Among the decisions was an agreement to establish a technical expert group to examine how synthetic biology products should be regulated. COP12 agreed that risk assessment and regulations must tally with the ‘no-harm principle’ that activities avoid damaging the environment of other states or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
But the highlight of the meeting, according to delegates, was the entering into force of a treaty signed four years ago that opens up access to genetic resources and a mandatory fair sharing of the benefits derived from them.
The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their utilisation to the CBD came into force on 12 October after the 50th ratification.