First in-person negotiations geared at delivering landmark global treaty to reverse biodiversity loss deliver new draft text, but campaigners remain underwhelmed at pace of progress

The first in-person global biodiversity negotiations in two years have produced an initial draft text and a suite of potential targets, after crunch talks between 195 countries ultimately geared at delivering a global treaty to reverse the catastrophic decline in nature drew to a close in Geneva on Tuesday.

However, green groups warned progress on a host of outstanding issues remains far too sluggish if hopes of delivering an ambitious, landmark global treaty are to be realised at the crucial UN biodiversity summit that is scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, later this year.

The COP15 Summit has already been delayed on at least four occasions due to the Covid-19 crisis, having originally been slated to take place in 2020 in the run up to the COP26 Climate Summit. The repeated delays have prompted growing concern that urgently-needed action to tackle the global biodiversity crisis risks falling by the wayside as governments focus on the economic recovery from the Covid crisis and mounting geopolitical tensions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

With preparatory talks towards a treaty having also been disrupted by the pandemic, the past 18 days of discussions in Geneva have been the only opportunity to thrash out negotiating texts in-person over the last two years.

The initial talks in Geneva drew to a close last night, with the Convention on Biological Diversity – the UN affiliated body which oversees the talks – confirming that diplomats had produced 21 draft nature targets for the initial draft framework, alongside proposed means of implementation.

But while the suggested targets cover a raft of areas, including curbing species loss and expanding the size of environmental conservation areas around the world, countries failed to agree to a final sign-off on any of the proposed targets, nor an overarching ambition for the treaty.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), claimed world governments had produced a strong basis for a post-2020 global framework agreement to safeguard the health of the planet’s biodiversity to be reached later this year, but conceded talks had been “intense”.

“Governments came to Geneva eager to meet in person and make progress on urgent action on the goals, targets and institutions needed to protect nature,” she said. “They have engaged in intense discussions drawing a variety of positions and shown the power of multilateralism and a willingness to seek common ground.”

Basile van Havre, co-chair of the working group overseeing the negotiations, pointed to progress on several elements of the initial draft framework proposed at the beginning of the talks over a fortnight ago, but warned there was still a great deal of work ahead on a number of outstanding issues.

“During the session, governments retained the overall shape and structure of the first version of the framework, which includes goals, targets, and means of implementation, but added many other elements and qualifications that require further negotiation,” he said. “These are expected to be held at the end of June in Nairobi, where delegates will further refine the framework and agree on language to present for adoption in Kunming.”

However, scores of suggested amendments to the draft text and proposed targets emerged from all parties and regions, according to CBD, underscoring the scale of the task ahead to deliver an agreement acceptable to all countries in Kunming later this year.

CBD said the sheer size of suggested amendments showed that governments around the world attached “great importance to the discussions”.

However, green groups warned that far higher levels of political engagement were needed from governments to accelerate momentum towards an ambitious treaty, warning that concrete action and commitment had still been lacking in Geneva.

“For years, we’ve been urging governments around the world to meet this moment; to stand up for their communities, their economies, and the planet with real action that stops destroying nature and starts restoring it,” said Linda Krueger, Global Biodiversity Policy Lead, The Nature Conservancy. After two weeks of negotiations in Geneva, some modicum of progress was made, but not nearly enough in terms of ambition and scale.”

The sentiment was echoed by WWF International’s director-general Marco Lamertini, who said there had been growing convergence around an overarching goal to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, but that the talks had otherwise broadly achieved only “limited progress”.

“It will be essential that greater leadership is shown in the next round of negotiations if we are to pave the way to agreeing a future-proof Global Biodiversity Framework adequate to the challenge we are facing,” he said. “It is vital that we end this decade with more nature, not less. Governments should deliver on what’s necessary to reverse nature loss.”

Eva Zabey, executive director at the Business for Nature – a coalition of companies and conservation groups – said the private sector was demanding urgent action to address the catastrophic loss in biodiversity, but that “so far, the negotiations do not reflect the sense of urgency that science demands”.

“At these latest negotiations, leading businesses showed up in force calling for more ambition to secure a global agreement on nature that works for people and nature,” she said. “We need political leadership to find solutions and deliver an enabling environment that will transform our systems to recognize our shared accountability and responsibility to achieve a nature-positive world for all by 2030.”

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