On 12 January 2023, the House of Lords is due to consider the following debate moved by Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Conservative):

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment it has made of the outcome of the UN’s Biodiversity Conference ‘COP15’ held in Montreal between 7 and 19 December, and to what extent the UK is fulfilling all of its international obligations to protect biodiversity.

1. What is COP?

‘COP’ stands for ‘conference of the parties’. Organised by the UN, these conferences involve participation from countries, regional organisations and non-government bodies. The purpose is to review progress towards international agreements, set priorities and commit to work plans. There are two types of COP:

  • COP Climate: This conference focuses on climate change and takes place every year in different countries. The most recent COP on climate, COP27, was the 27th meeting and took place in Egypt in November 2022.
  • COP Biodiversity: This conference focuses on biodiversity and takes place every two years. The most recent COP on biodiversity, COP15, took place in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022, and is the focus of this briefing.

The first part of COP15 took place virtually from 11 to 15 October 2021, with the second part taking place in person from 7 to 19 December 2022 in Montreal. This was the 15th meeting of the COP to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Ratified by 196 countries, the CBD is an international treaty for the conservation of biological diversity. The CBD was agreed in 1992 and has seen nearly every country in the world become a party to it. The UK brought the CBD into force in 1993. This put the UK government under a legal obligation to protect biodiversity in its territories.

2. What was the outcome of COP15?

COP15 saw the adoption of a new set of international goals for biodiversity called the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). A total of 188 governments (including the UK) agreed to the GBF and committed to address the ongoing loss of terrestrial and marine biodiversity.

2.1 Goals and targets

The GBF contains four overarching goals and 23 targets. The four goals set out a vision for biodiversity by 2050:

  • Goal A: Substantially increase the area of natural ecosystems by maintaining, enhancing or restoring the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems. Reduce by tenfold the extinction rate and risk of all species and increase the abundance of native wild species. Maintain the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species and safeguard their adaptive potential.
  • Goal B: Ensure nature’s contributions to people are valued, maintained and enhanced, with those contributions currently in decline being restored.
  • Goal C: Share the monetary and non-monetary benefits of the utilisation of genetic resources, digital sequence information on genetic resources, and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources with Indigenous people and local communities. Additionally, ensure traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is appropriately protected.
  • Goal D: Ensure all parties (specifically developing countries) have adequate means to implement the GBF. This includes financial resources, capacity building, technical and scientific cooperation, and access to technology.

The global targets for 2030 include the following:

  • Effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans, with emphasis on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services. This has been informally referred to as the ‘30 by 30’ deal.
  • Reduce global food waste by half and significantly reduce over-consumption and waste generation.
  • Reduce by half both excess nutrients and the overall risk posed by pesticides and highly hazardous chemicals.
  • Progressively phase out or reform subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500bn per year, whilst scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity conservation.
  • Encourage at least $200bn per year in domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from public and private sources
  • Increase international financial flows from developed to developing countries by at least $20bn per year by 2025, and to at least $30bn per year by 2030.
  • Require transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess and disclose the impact on biodiversity of their operations, supply chains and portfolios.

In addition to these goals and targets, parties approved a series of related agreements on the GBF’s implementation. For example, parties agreed that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) should establish a special trust fund as soon as possible to support countries to implement the GBF. The GEF is an international organisation that provides funding for biodiversity protection, nature restoration, pollution reduction and climate change responses in developing countries.

Although the GBF is not legally binding, it requires countries to monitor and report on their progress against the GBF’s goals and targets every five years or earlier.

2.2 Other measures agreed

Other topics discussed during COP15 included digital sequence information on genetic resources. According to a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) article on digital sequence information (DSI), DSI refers to the “digital biological data in various international negotiations around sharing benefits from the uses of genetic resources”. The parties agreed that DSI had commercial and non-commercial applications, including pharmaceutical product development, improved crop breeding, taxonomy and the monitoring of invasive species. As such, they agreed that a multilateral fund should be established within the GBF for the “equitable sharing of benefits between providers and users of DSI”. This fund would be finalised at COP16 in Turkey in 2024.

On future monitoring of GBF progress, the parties agreed that global trend and progress reports would be created from information submitted by countries in February 2026 and June 2029 respectively.

3. What reaction did the GBF receive?

The reaction to the GBF adoption was mixed, with some suggesting that the final text may have been forced through. According to a Guardian article on GBF reactions, Chinese COP15 President Huang Runqiu appeared to force the GBF through moments after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) environment minister, Ève Bazaiba, had said her country did not support the final text. The DRC objected to it because the GBF did not create a new fund for biodiversity separate to the existing UN fund, the GEF. The Chinese COP15 president’s interventions were then reported to have prompted further objections from Uganda and Cameroon. However, the Guardian said the DRC had dropped its objections shortly afterwards.

Tensions were reported between countries during the COP15 conference. An article on COP15 key outcomes by Carbon Brief described tensions between some developed and developing countries. This reportedly stemmed from developed countries wanting to increase the GBF’s ambitions, whilst developing countries sought assurances that developed countries would provide them with sufficient resources to meet these ambitions. Carbon Brief describes itself as a UK-based website that publishes information covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy.

Some campaign groups have raised concerns about the impact of the GBF on Indigenous peoples’ rights. Target 3 (the 30 by 30 deal) states that 30% of terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine areas must be conserved and managed by 2030 through systems of protected areas and conservation measures that “[recognise] Indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable”. Amnesty International said the 30 by 30 deal threatened the rights of Indigenous peoples because it failed to recognise Indigenous peoples’ land and territories as a separate category of conserved area. Chris Chapman, an adviser on Indigenous rights at Amnesty International, said the GBF “only partly [acknowledged] Indigenous peoples’ outstanding contribution to conservation”. However, other organisations supported the GBF’s recognition of Indigenous communities. A Twitter post by the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) said it “[celebrated the GBF’s] timely recognition of Indigenous peoples and local community contributions, roles, rights and responsibilities” to biodiversity. The IIFB is a collection of representatives from Indigenous governments, non-government organisations, scholars and activists. They help to coordinate Indigenous strategies and influence governments to recognise the rights of Indigenous peoples at the CBD and other international environmental meetings.

Some have also raised concerns about an apparent lack of accountability within the GBF. A senior associate at PwC UK, Thomas Engelhard, argued that the GBF lacked quantifiable measures, which made it more difficult to hold countries and governments to account.

Despite these concerns, the GBF has also received praise. The independent think tank the International Institute for Sustainable Development welcomed the GBF. It stated that “significant efforts” were now required from all societies and governments to achieve the framework’s goals and targets.

The UK’s international environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, described the GBF on Twitter as a “huge historic moment”. Additionally, a statement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the GBF provided a “good foundation” for global action on biodiversity. She added that the world “now has a roadmap to protect and restore nature”. Canada’s environment and climate change minister, Steven Guilbeault, described the GBF as a “bold step forward to protect nature”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter that the GBF meant a “peace pact with nature” was now being forged and urged all countries to deliver on their commitments.

The UK government has committed to publishing a plan setting out how it will implement the GBF. In response to a written parliamentary question on biodiversity in December 2022, the minister for natural environment and land use, Trudy Harrison, said the government would publish the ‘Environmental improvement plan’ in 2023. The minister said the plan would set out the government’s ambitions and approach to nature recovery.

4. How has global biodiversity changed?

Recent data has shown that the world is experiencing biodiversity loss and human-induced climate change. The biannual ‘Living planet report 2022’—published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London Institute of Zoology in October 2022—said that the planet was in the middle of a “biodiversity and climate crisis”. The report presented the latest results from the living planet index (LPI), an indicator of global biodiversity. It found that land-use change remained the largest current threat to nature, with the loss of natural habitats for many plants and animal species both on land, in freshwater and at sea. However, if global warming is not limited to 1.5C, the report said that climate change would likely become the dominant cause of biodiversity loss in the coming decades.

The LPI tracks trends in the abundance of mammals, fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians in the world. The latest index showed there had been an average 69% decline in monitored global wildlife populations between 1970 and 2018. Regionally, Latin America had seen the greatest regional decline in average population abundance. Regarding the trends for different species, the index showed that freshwater species populations had seen the greatest overall global decline. However, as noted by Our World in Data—a project of the England and Wales charity Global Change Data Lab that produces scientific online publications—not all animal populations were in decline, with almost half of species having increasing numbers.

To ensure a “nature-positive future”, the ‘Living planet report 2022’ said that global shifts were needed across production, consumption, governance and finance.

Action to recover nature in the UK has also been called for. In November 2022, the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies published a joint statement on nature recovery in the UK. This highlighted the importance of nature recovery for global survival, prosperity and wellbeing. It also referred to the contribution that the UK’s nature conservation bodies could make in achieving the recovery of nature in the UK. These bodies are: the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency and the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside.

5. What has the UK government done to protect biodiversity?

The UK government has published several policies and plans over the past decade to support its biodiversity ambitions and international obligations.

5.1 Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services

In 2011, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a strategy for England called ‘Biodiversity 2020’. This sought to reverse the decline of habitats and species in England. The strategy aligned with international obligations set out in the CBD strategic plan for biodiversity 2011–2020. This international plan included 20 targets known as the Aichi biodiversity targets. An example of an Aichi target included developing and adopting a national biodiversity strategy and action plan.

The CBD requires contracting parties to submit national progress reports on their implementation of the CBD. The UK submitted its sixth national report to the CBD in March 2019, setting out what the UK had done to achieve the Aichi targets. According to an overview of the report by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, the UK government’s advisory body on nature conservation, the overall results showed that the UK had made good progress towards the Aichi targets. However, it noted that more progress was needed.

The GBF has now replaced the strategic plan for biodiversity 2011–2020 and its associated Aichi targets.

5.2 25 year environment plan

In 2018, the government published the ‘25 year environment plan’. This contained various goals for improving biodiversity and the environment across the UK. One such goal is to ensure both land and marine plants and wildlife can thrive. In its latest annual progress report, covering the period April 2021 to March 2022, the government highlighted how provisions in the new Environment Act 2021 would help to protect and enhance the environment. The report also detailed key progress made towards each of the plan’s goals. This included the publication of the nature recovery green paper in March 2022 which set out the government’s ambitions and approach to nature recovery.

5.3 Target of protecting 30% of UK land by 2030

In September 2020, the government committed to protecting 30% of UK land by 2030. This commitment was made shortly before the UK signed up to the leaders’ pledge for nature. Signed by 94 countries at the UN summit on biodiversity in September 2020, the pledge committed world leaders to take 10 urgent actions by 2030 to reduce biodiversity loss. Actions included sustainable food production, ending the illegal wildlife trade and implementing nature-based solutions for climate change. It also included a commitment to develop and implement the GBF at COP15.

Biodiversity is a devolved matter, although the UK government has responsibility for obligations arising from international treaties and conventions. The government said it would work with the devolved administrations to agree an approach across the UK.

5.4 Domestic legislation

The government has introduced legislation for improving biodiversity across the UK. The Environment Act 2021 requires the government to set at least one environmental target for air, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction. The act also requires a species abundance target to be set for 2030.

DEFRA held a consultation on its proposed environmental targets between March and June 2022. The act required the targets to be published as draft statutory instruments and laid before Parliament by 31 October 2022. However, on 28 October 2022, the government made a statement saying it was unable to meet this deadline. This was due to the “volume of material and significant public response” received to DEFRA’s consultation. In the statement, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey said the government remained committed to halting the decline in species by 2030 and would bring forward a wider suite of targets.

6. What other international conventions is the UK a party to?

In addition to the CBD, the UK is a contracting party to a range of international conventions on biodiversity. This includes the following:

7. Read more

Cover image by Alfred Schrock on Unsplash.