In December 2022, while the eyes of the world are on the Qatar men’s Football World Cup, a conference of diplomats will be attempting a late second-half comeback to turn the tide of the biodiversity crisis. The legacy of global biodiversity summits matches that of the most underperforming of football teams. Since 1992 biodiversity COPs have invariably served up a spectacle of missed opportunities, unrealised promise, and self-sabotage. However, maybe, just maybe, might this time be different?
Back in 1992 the Convention on Biological Diversity was the first global agreement to cover all aspects of biodiversity. It had three core aims; the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the equitable sharing of the benefits from genetic resources. Over the thirty subsequent years the order of the day for biodiversity on the global stage has been damp squibs and paper promises. The Aichi Targets are the most significant failure – of these twenty targets launched in 2010 to reverse biodiversity loss by 2020, not a single one was achieved. However, as recognition of the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss has continued to build, so has hope that the global biodiversity policy stasis might be able to shift.
The draft action plan to supersede the Aichi Targets – the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – aims to be the nature equivalent of the Paris Climate Agreement. Released in 2021, the Framework sets out 21 targets. Notable highlights include targets to conserve 30% of land and sea by 2030, increase investment in biodiversity to $200bn a year, reduce pesticides by at least two thirds and eliminate the discharge of plastic waste. While there is room for improvement, the relatively strong ambition of the draft GBF is promising for Columbia Threadneedle as a responsible investor. The clear quantitative targets it sets out allow companies and activities to be measured against a common yardstick, supports our engagement with companies to encourage them to act on biodiversity, and acts as a catalyst for enhanced investor and corporate action.
The GBF has not been blessed with a smooth road toward being ratified. COVID-19 delayed the key COP15 summit to sign off the Framework by two years. Finally, in June 2022 it was confirmed the meeting would be moved from Kunming in China to Montreal, Canada, and would take place in December 2022. This uncertainty around timing and location has hindered pre-summit consensus-building. Fears that the participating countries are still divided on many biodiversity topics have been confirmed by the limited progress at pre-summit meetings in 2022 in Geneva and Nairobi. Key sticking points remain around the volume of biodiversity finance flows to developing countries, the target to conserve 30% of land and sea by 2030, and phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies. As Li Shuo from Greenpeace puts it, “to prevent a dumpster fire in Montreal, the next five months are key”.
Despite widespread frustration at the stalling negotiations on the GBF, there are positive signs that private sector ambition on nature continues to accelerate. More than 1,100 businesses are asking governments for more ambitious policies and are acting now to reverse nature loss. Leading businesses, such as BHP, Teck, GSK, Ikea and H&M are already committing to be nature-positive, and are not waiting for absolute certainty on the GBF. Columbia Threadneedle is supporting enhanced private sector ambition through our role in establishing the Nature Action 100 initiative, our active membership of the TNFD Forum, and our engagement with our holding companies. There are some encouraging signs that private sector calls for urgency and ambition are penetrating the fog of negotiations. While a second-half comeback at COP15 still looks unlikely, we shouldn’t stop dreaming just yet.