Five Key Reflections from COP15

After a few days of reflection following a historic agreement being reached at COP15 to reverse nature loss this decade, our stewardship and engagement lead, Sophie Lawrence shares her five key takeaways from the global biodiversity conference.

21 December 2022
 1. This historic global biodiversity agreement is a product of international cooperation by real people.  

One thing that isn’t often talked about when it comes to global conferences of this kind is the energy and collaborative spirit which country negotiating teams and other stakeholders put in to achieving the text, which can ultimately be scrutinised in black and white on a page. But this is visible when you are on the ground. Negotiating teams worked from early morning to late at night for over two weeks to secure this agreement. And the two weeks in Montreal followed nearly four years of negotiations and meetings. Added into the mix in Montreal was the ‘COP fatigue’ some teams were feeling post-COP27, combined with some frustration from attendees around the lack of buy-in from senior world leaders and the global media.  

As the focus moves toward the implementation phase of the agreement, it is worth remembering this – and that reversing biodiversity loss this decade is going to be a marathon and not a sprint.  

2. ‘30x30’ – the ‘1.5 degrees by 2050’ equivalent for nature? 

The ‘30x30’ target aims to conserve 30% of the Earth’s land, sea, inland water and coastal areas by 2030 and had become a headline focus of COP15. Its adoption at the conference has been recognised as a significant milestone and marks the largest land and ocean conservation commitment in history. This target provides all parties with a clear roadmap to follow, and the next step is for countries to develop plans on how to achieve it. It is widely recognised that achieving the target will involve action at an exponentially faster rate than we have seen to date. There has been criticism by Indigenous and human rights groups that the 30x30 target does not go far enough in protecting Indigenous people, as it fails to explicitly recognise their lands and territories as a separate category to a conserved area.  

Proponents of 30x30 argue that this can be the universal nature goal which guides global action, in a similar way to how ‘1.5 degrees or under’ has been the universal climate goal since the 2015 Paris Agreement. It is important however to not lose sight of the other vitally important measures which will enable us to achieve the overarching goal of the global biodiversity framework – to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and be living in harmony with nature by 2050. Not least of these additional measures is the requirement for an urgent reform of subsidies that harm nature – something that did encouragingly get a mention in the final text, with a commitment to phase such subsidies out over time by at least $500 billion per year. Despite this, there were also a lot of murmurings at the conference about the extent that this could be achievable within the current economic system and how we would all need to radically rethink how we consume, reducing the current dependencies and impacts which businesses have on the natural world.  

3. The finance sector now firmly has a seat at the Biodiversity COP table.  

From a finance perspective, it seems the finance sector’s unprecedented involvement in the negotiating process for COP15 as well as the conference itself has been successful overall. It is welcome to see, in target 14, mentions of “private financial flows” needing to be aligned with the goals and targets of the global biodiversity framework, alongside public finance. Although mandatory reporting on impacts and dependencies on biodiversity was watered down in the final text to “large and transnational companies”, with no mention of “mandatory” but just a need to “disclose,” this could already lead to a significant change in business practices, if fully implemented. The final text also acknowledges the important role private finance will play in plugging the funding gap for nature recovery. This is important, as when we talk about the role of finance in reversing nature loss, we need to think both about reducing financing of harm, as well as greater funding for nature-based solutions.  

"...when we talk about the role of finance in reversing nature loss, we need to think both about reducing financing of harm, as well as greater funding for nature-based solutions."

This success is in no small part down to the hard work of Finance for Biodiversity and the Policy working group, who have worked tirelessly over the last 18 months to gain official observer status to the negotiations so that the finance sector’s voice is heard. COP15 also saw the launch of Nature Action 100+, the sister collaborative engagement programme to Climate Action 100+, which will focus on driving greater corporate ambition and action to reduce nature and biodiversity loss. Over 100 investors were already signed up to participate as it launched, signalling investor interest in engagement on this issue. We hope over time that there will be greater convergence and consolidation between climate and biodiversity engagement and research initiatives, given how inextricably linked the two issues are.  

4. Indigenous peoples hold the key to rethinking the approach to land management.  
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The crucial role which Indigenous peoples worldwide play in protecting and restoring global biodiversity was a key focus at COP15. Research has shown that although Indigenous peoples make up only 5% of the Earth’s population, they are the stewards of around 85% of the planet’s biodiversity. Given the gaps identified in the framework mentioned above, it is vitally important that Indigenous peoples’ rights are centred and listened to as work starts on implementation.  

On the first Sunday of COP15 Sophie attended the talks at the Indigenous Leadership Initiatives pop-up village by the Port in Montreal. The Indigenous Leadership Initiative helps to facilitate and strengthen the participation of Indigenous leaders in Canada’s system of governance. Speakers talked about what proper consultation looked like, where Indigenous communities are fully involved in the governance and planning of land. They also spoke about the Indigenous Guardians network which helps to honour the responsibility to care for lands and waters, with Guardians serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ on traditional territories. Young people are playing a key role in this community, with over 110 Guardian programs currently operating across Canada. 

A message that was heard loud and clear at the event was that if the current trends of biodiversity loss are going to be reversed, there is a need to embed longer-term thinking into the global approach to land management. The Canadian academic David Suzuki shared his thoughts on the absence of reciprocity which is missing from today’s system and the need for a shift to the ‘seven generations perspective,’ where the decisions made today should result in a sustainable world, seven generations into the future.  

5. This historic global biodiversity agreement is the beginning not the end.  

This global agreement being reached marks the beginning, not the end, of the journey to reverse biodiversity loss. It will involve unprecedented collaboration globally, new circular business models which can maintain social safeguards within the frame of our natural system boundaries, reimagining our global food system and ambitious governance from our national leaders. Ambitious? That’s naming only a few of the transformative changes we need to see. This is even harder to imagine as we find ourselves amid an energy and cost-of-living crisis and economic recession.  

Reaching an agreement between over 190 countries on how to reverse global biodiversity this decade has been a historic first step on this journey. But this level of ambition will need to be ratcheted up over time and monitored more closely than previous global biodiversity targets. We simply can’t afford for these targets to fail in the same way as the previous global biodiversity targets set in 2010 (to be achieved by 2020) did, given the current trends in biodiversity loss we are witnessing and the vitally important role nature plays in underpinning our livelihoods, economy and health.