A global deal for nature is just the first step
Photo: Royal Bengal Tiger, just 2,500 remain in the wild. By Natalia Mroz of IISD/ENB
This is a great moment for the world, but it is not the final step. Our relationship with the living world is in serious danger and that endangers all life on this planet. There is a lot more work to do.
Those powerful words from the Namibian delegate after the dramatic COP15 meeting in Montreal was gavelled to a close in the pre-dawn hours of Monday summed up the challenge that lies ahead.
Countries agreed a new global deal on nature with 4 goals, 23 targets, including making 30% of land and ocean a protected area to save wildlife and ecosystems, and to cut food waste in half by 2030.
This newsletter will highlight a few important takeaways from the final agreement, as well as update on what happened on the way to a new plastics treaty, and report on yet another ground-breaking climate litigation case down under.
Highlights from the Sustainability Agenda
Make no mistake, this Global Biodiversity Framework agreed by 196 countries to halt and reverse nature loss is a big deal. It commits to conserving nearly a third of Earth for nature by 2030 and highlights the importance of effective conservation management to protect wetlands, rainforests, grasslands and coral reefs.
As ever, finance was a thorny point throughout - even after the adoption of the historic deal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda protested that their concerns over the financial mechanism and resource mobilization were ignored.
👉 Target 15 on corporate accountability in the end dropped the original “mandatory” requirement, and compromised on asking large national and transnational companies and financial institutions to:
regularly monitor, assess and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity
provide information needed to consumers to promote sustainable consumption patterns
👉 There are promises of money (as opposed to money on the table) Countries aim to ensure $200 billion per annum goes to conservation initiatives, from public and private sources. Developed countries should contribute at least $20 billion of this every year by 2025, and at least $30 billion a year by 2030.
👉 Target 19 addresses the need to leverage private finance by promoting blended finance, implementing strategies for raising new and additional resources, and encouraging the private sector to invest in biodiversity, including through impact funds and other instruments.
👉 Unlike the Aichi Targets, there is a concrete plan for implementation whereby all countries translate global goals into national goals.
How we got here: a mind-boggling process
One anecdote which speaks to how hard it is to land agreement with 196 countries talking together in a room - Mexican delegates offered fellow delegates bottles of tequila for every bracket in the text they can delete.
To get a sense of just how fraught and complex the process has been, check out this interactive tracker of the text. You see which sections have been the most fraught and contested by the number of brackets/100 words. Bracketed text is text that has not yet been agreed - sometimes entire sections go into brackets.
The Global Biodiversity Framework replaces the Aichi Targets, a set of 20 biodiversity-related goals that were adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan in 2010. None were achieved, for reasons ranging from no financial resources to no mechanism for accountability.
2022 is a very different story from 2010. The idea that we can no longer take nature for granted, and that everything in the economy is dependent on nature has been mainstreamed, at last, in part thanks to big reports such as the IPBES Global Assessment (2019) and the Dasgupta Report (2021).
Report argues that ignoring biodiversity loss is a material risk
A new report argues that the momentum to protect nature in regulation and treaties makes biodiversity loss a material risk to companies (i.e. a serious issue they need to grapple with) and that failure to take nature impacts into account could leave companies scarred.
👉 Many corporate actors still view biodiversity as a supply chain issue and the smartest actors will already be getting out ahead on this one.
How climate litigators are using this argument
Take for example some of the recent legal victories: there is a new joined-up narrative underlying the cases that combine avoided carbon emissions with respect for environmental rights nested within human rights. This is a big shift.
In late November, a Queensland court ruled against plans to dig Australia’s largest thermal coalmine because they infringe upon the human rights of future generations.
The court found that it would infringe upon the human rights of First Nations Queenslanders as well as the owners of a private nature reserve, the Bimblebox, whose ecological value would be seriously and possibly irreversibly damaged by the mine.
👉 This is a landmark climate case. Aside from being the first human rights climate win, it overturned an entrenched assumption that a mine’s contribution to climate change is net zero because if that mine doesn’t supply coal, then another will.
🎙️ If you find this interesting stay tuned, we’ll be diving into this topic with a new podcast episode in the new year.
Update on the Plastics Treaty
The first meeting of the group tasked to flesh out a new legally binding treaty on plastic pollution (International Negotiating Committee, or INC-1) met in Uruguay in late November.
👉 What’s at stake: For this treaty to have teeth, it has to take on some tough challenges. A recent article in Nature outlines ways for it to do that:
Ban the movement of plastic waste from high-income to lower-income countries
Producers pay for the collection, sorting & recycling of plastic packaging & products they make
Currently only 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Countries could place a surcharge on the creation of polymers, the building blocks of plastics & use the revenue to fund recycling.
Predictably, there is a huge spectrum of views on everything from how to design a comprehensive approach addressing the full life cycle of plastics, to whether this can be a legally binding instrument (unlike the climate and biodiversity conventions, which are voluntary commitments). Deadline for this work to end and a treaty to be agreed is 2024. The next meeting will be in Paris in May 2023.
From and Beyond the podcast
Our latest podcast is an interview with Sony Kapoor, who was guest #1 back in early 2020. This time he’s talking about what is arguably the most important policy conversation of our times: how to finance the energy transition in the global South and which economic development model is the right one for the new powerhouses of global growth such as India and Indonesia.
One of the biggest sticking points in all international negotiations on the environment is who pays. And this year there’s been a lot of energy and hope invested in the idea of Bretton Woods reform to “unlock the trillions” for funding the energy transition in the global South.
Sony explains why “unlocking the trillions” is not just a headline-grabbing buzzword, it also distracts from the real problem - the need for a new grand bargain between the North and South.
Don’t miss this timely and important conversation. You can catch up here.
And as the year draws to a close, I wanted to say thank you for your support and attention. I started writing this newsletter during the early months of 2020, and it’s been encouraging to watch the community grow steadily ever since then. The subjects we cover here are getting more and more traction in the mainstream media, and I have tried to keep the conversation here focused on providing you with a quick jump on things to help you stay ahead of the big themes in the sustainability agenda.
We’ve pulled together a selection of the most popular podcasts and newsletter in 2022 in case you missed some of these, do take a moment over the holidays to catch up. One thing that I enjoy about writing for this community is learning about what sorts of issues people are most interested in following. In that spirit, the best holiday gift you can offer is to send an email with your suggestions of what you’d like to learn more about in 2023.
And a special shout-out to an important podcast that probably didn’t make it onto your radar because it was published a few days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The podcast on the IPCC mega-report on adaptation - 2023 will be a year where the North-South tensions around how to finance the energy transition continue to chafe, and in order to understand the perspective of the half of humanity that lives under conditions of high vulnerability to climate change, I urge you to take 30 m to listen to this.
Wishing you happy holidays and see you in 2023.