Kunming Declaration on biodiversity: A show of political will that lacks targets

The loss of nature, climate change, land degradation, ocean destruction and pollution form an unprecedented, connected crisis that poses an “existential threat to our society, our culture, our prosperity and our planet”.

This is contained in the Kunming Declaration,  which aims to build an “ecological civilisation” for a shared future for all life on Earth, and was adopted by more than 100 countries at the virtual UN biodiversity conference on 13 October. The declaration is the outcome of the high-level segment of part one of COP15 — the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 

The post-2020 global biodiversity framework is due to be adopted at part two of the UN Biodiversity conference in May, after another round of formal negotiations in January. The aim of the framework is to work towards halting the global extinction crisis. According to the CBD, the declaration “gives clear political direction for those negotiations”. 

The declaration stresses that “urgent and integrated action” is needed, for “transformative change, across all sectors of the economy and all parts of society to … shape a future path for nature and people, where biodiversity is conserved and used sustainably”.

The CBD said the declaration addresses crucial elements needed for a successful framework, including the mainstreaming of biodiversity across all decision-making, the phasing out of harmful subsidies, strengthening the rule of law, and recognising the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities. 

In 2010, the CBD set 20 decade-long targets — the Aichi biodiversity targets — to try to slow, if not halt, the loss of biodiversity until 2020, but none of these have been fully met

In 2019, a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services documented that one million species are threatened with extinction.

“The bottom line is that the declaration is aspirational without putting down any targets,” said Guy Midgley, a biodiversity and global change specialist at Stellenbosch University. “That’s the critical next step: to see how this is shaped in the next set of negotiations. The signs look really good, as they’ve taken on a lot of the new science and insights.”

The declaration is a show of political will, according to the World-wide Fund for Nature, that adds “much needed momentum” by clearly signalling the necessary direction to address biodiversity loss. “However, we are still a long way from a whole of government approach implemented by all parties to the CBD,” the fund said. 

According to Greenpeace International, the declaration sets forward “general ambitions” for biodiversity protection, but does not address lingering questions about implementation or additional commitments from governments.

The declaration notes the goal of many countries to protect and conserve 30% of land and sea areas through well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective, area-based conservation measures by 2030. 

This 30×30 proposal is being championed by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People — an intergovernmental coalition of more than 70 countries. 

The Campaign for Nature said overwhelming scientific evidence and economic data show that conserving at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean is a crucial element to help address global biodiversity loss; other steps include storing carbon, preventing future pandemics, increasing fisheries’ production, and bolstering economic growth.

Fiore Longo, the head of Survival International’s decolonise conservation campaign, says most governments and NGOs “are good at producing nice-sounding rhetoric” about respecting indigenous rights. 

“But the same people are promoting a massive drive to create new protected areas on indigenous lands, as part of the 30×30 plan, [which] constitutes the biggest land grab in world history. We can see the same pretence in calls for nature-based solutions to climate change,” Longo said. 

“These are really just a new spin on what used to be called carbon offsets. They’ll allow indigenous lands to be bought and sold, to permit the world’s most polluting companies to carry on polluting.”

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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