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expert reaction to global biodiversity agreement reached at UN Biodiversity Conference COP15

Negotiators reached a deal at the United Nations biodiversity conference early on Monday.


Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation and Policy, Zoological Society of London, said:

“The Global Biodiversity Framework is a vital component in halting biodiversity loss. The outputs of COP15 set the global agenda –  they provide the mandate for Parties, NGOs and the private sector and set the financial basis and expectations for everyone from the Global Environment Facility to foundations and private donors. Meeting the funding needs expressed by Parties, particularly from developing countries, will need all donors coming together. The agreement also sets the basis for countries to report their progress against goals and targets.

“There was quite a bit of language in the framework that was altered and watered down. Originally ‘Nature Positive’ was a theme that was expected to feature broadly with a view that it could act as the ‘Net Zero’ for biodiversity, but ultimately that was not the case and it was removed from the text. Equally while there is a 2030 mission and targets, the 2030 milestones were dropped from the goals, which extend to 2050. We hope this does not diminish the urgency with which action is taken to show significant progress.

“Collectively we had to fight hard to make sure it was equally not the ‘Copenhagen’ moment, referring to the failed climate change talks in 2009. Thankfully the outcome is certainly not a Copenhagen moment; considerable progress was made and having a new framework and set of indicators were key, alongside agreements on the digital sequence information and financing are all major results.

“COP15 was a roller-coaster, especially given the extensive period of development leading to the COP. Parties went in seeking the Paris moment, however issues around financing quickly became divisive. At the mid-point it was not clear that anything would come out. Texts had 1,400 bracketed sections and there was considerable disagreement. The final week saw extensive political negotiation between Heads of Delegation and ministers that ultimately saw an agreement get across the line.

“There is considerable work still to do, to specify what is meant and set up the structures outlined in the agreement. Time is not on our side and we have to get going immediately. ZSL will do what it can to contribute and support the successful realization of these ambitions.”


Prof Andy Purvis, Research Leader, Diversity and Informatics Division, Natural History Museum, said:

“The GBF is intended as a roadmap of how we get to the future safely – a world with enough nature still in it to support humanity’s needs not just in ten years time but into future generations. So it’s more than just a few goals, a few headlines about how we’d like that future to look. It’s also a detailed breakdown of the major things that need to be done this decade – starting right now – so that we can ‘bend the curve’ of biodiversity loss and reach sustainability sooner.

“It’s hugely important that the goals don’t just smear all the different facets of biodiversity together into a single composite number, or choose any one facet as the sole focus. A single number – mean temperature – has been a hugely effective focus for climate COPs, but biodiversity is much more complex than climate, and any single number would have guaranteed a bad outcome.

“Unfortunately, the agreement doesn’t even *try* to stop biodiversity loss by 2030. It feels more like the 2010 target agreed in 2002 (to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss) than the more ambitious Aichi targets agreed in 2010. But we missed *all* of those previous targets, not least because they weren’t backed up with such a rich set of actions that need to start right away. Scaling up all those actions, and the new global biodiversity monitoring framework, will at least mean that, when more ambitious goals are agreed at some point in the future, we’ll actually be in with a shout of reaching them.

“Many people were hoping that this would be a ‘Paris moment’ for biodiversity. It’s not. But it’s not a Copenhagen moment either.

“The science is very clear that getting the future safely will require transformative change in our relationship with nature. The cynical part of me wonders whether the fifteenth iteration of *any* process can deliver transformative change, even with the best efforts of everyone involved. On the plus side, the new monitoring framework will hopefully be able to tell us much more quickly than before if we are on the wrong course, so hopefully we won’t have to wait an entire decade before the agreement can be revisited if needed.”


Professor Mark Emmerson, Vice President of the British Ecological Society, Queens University Belfast, said:

“The British Ecological Society welcomes the fact that agreement has been reached on new targets intended to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, especially the headline commitment of effectively conserving and managing 30% of the world’s lands and water.

“Effective protected areas (PAs) have the potential to be the beating heart of nature recovery and the 30×30 global commitment offers the opportunity to revitalise the contribution that degraded ecosystems can make towards restoring biodiversity.

“We know from a UK perspective that to effectively support nature, protected areas need to be more than just paper parks or lines on a map. For example, protected areas in the UK make up 27% of land, but the proportion that is effectively protected for nature is as low as 5%. Marine Protected Areas cover 38% of UK seas, but many are not effectively managed and are still subject to harmful fishing practices.

“It is essential that governments are held to account on the new targets. Concerningly, this is more difficult due to the vague wording of some of the targets. The failure of governments to reach the previous, pre-2020 global biodiversity targets was partly due to their wording making progress difficult to quantify. We would like to see governments set their own SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) targets to track their progress on reversing biodiversity loss.”


Prof Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“It’s great news to have got to this point – with an ambitious and comprehensive global biodiversity framework agreed at last – but the real work begins now. Countries need to rapidly develop and incorporate plans of how they will reach the agreed targets, and work with the scientific community on tracking progress effectively”.

“The agreement of protecting 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030 sends a clear and strong message of the scale of investment required to halt global and regional losses of biodiversity, and to give ecosystems a chance to start recovering by increasing population sizes of threatened species and restoring vital ecological interactions.”

“Research at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew shows that the choice of which regions to protect is absolutely crucial: they must be based on the best available data and methodology, in order to maximise positive biodiversity outcomes. Otherwise, there is a big risk the cheapest areas are protected rather than those that matter most for biodiversity and the livelihoods of those who are stewards of land and seas, including indigenous and local communities.”

“Plants and fungi must be an integral part of the selection due to their vital roles in terrestrial ecosystems; whereas up to now birds and mammals have dominated the identification of protected areas.”

“Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s programme ‘Tropical Important Plant Areas’ exemplifies how in-country partnerships can link information from our extensive plant and fungal collections with on-the-ground expertise by our partners, to leverage national priority areas for conservation and ecosystem restoration.”


Dr Tim Littlewood, Executive Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, said:

“Our current relationship with nature is not sustainable for people or the planet. COP15’s targets, with measurable indicators, sets us on a course towards achievable, nature-positive outcomes – but only if we act now. Working in partnership locally, nationally and globally, especially with governments and corporate partners, requires individual effort and collective will to reverse nature’s extinction and humanity’s own.”


Dr Nick Isaac, Macroecologist, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said:

“The post-2020 global biodiversity framework is the nearest thing we have to a “Paris agreement for nature”. It’s an important step forward for the protection of ecosystems, and the new agreement acknowledges the need for equity among nations, as well as the rights of indigenous people. Given that 190 nations were involved, it’s quite an achievement to have agreed on anything. However, the targets suffer from some of the vagueness and lack of specificity that undermined previous agreements. What really matters is how these goals and targets are translated into national plans. England recently became the first country in the world to make legally binding commitments to halt biodiversity loss. Enshrining outcome-based targets into law is a powerful means to generate coordinated action across public and private sectors. Only by placing biodiversity and ecosystems into the mainstream of decision-making can we expect to achieve the COP goals of securing ecosystem integrity and sustainable use of biodiversity by 2050.”


Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading, said:

“This new set of targets represents a significant shift towards the end of a ‘Colonial Conservation Ethos’, with new goals around equality, inclusivity and human development, shown by greater use of words such as ‘indigenous’, ‘communities’, ‘equitable’, ‘Rights’ and ‘development’. It reflects a shift from a narrow neo-liberal perspective of measuring biodiversity stocks and announcing protected areas, to more a holistic approach working with local communities to support equality and development. There is a shift towards a less anthropocentric perspective, with words such as ‘Mother Earth’ appearing for the first time, reflecting a sense of kinship with nature, rather than seeing it only as a set of assets for our benefit. Compared to the last set of targets for 2020, there is a greater focus on specific mechanisms to achieve these goals, with greater reference to financial flows and knowledge sharing.”


Dr Imma Oliveras Menor, Senior Researcher, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said:

“The post 2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) is a global strategy for jointly safeguarding nature and securing our common future. None of the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were achieved and drivers of biodiversity loss worsened in the period 2011-2020. Thus, the Working-Group for post-2020 GBF seeks to establish specific targets to safeguard space for nature based on an enhanced understanding of the role of biodiversity and the thresholds needed to support and maintain biodiversity.

“Clear targets are of enormous potential significance for stopping biodiversity loss in the next coming years.

“No goals have been finalized, but established, most importantly a) the need to protect, conserve and restore; b) the recognition of the major role that local and indigeneous communities have on protecting biodiversity, c) halving the global risk of the most dangerous pesticides and chemical products

“The targets come with many challenges. For example, there is the recognition to “eliminate, abolish or reform” subsidies harmful to nature to the tune of $500 billion (365 billion euros) per year. This is particularly complex to implement, because of its social and political dimension.

“Similarly, while it is established that 30% of the world has to go protected by 2030, there are no national targets, thus its effectiveness will depend on the mechanisms used to implement the goals. It is true that, to prevent Aichi’s failure from happening again, States have agreed on a monitoring framework that should allow them to regularly evaluate progress and to further be specified in COP16 in Turkey at the end of 2024. However, while this might seem like a solid plan, there are no binding commitments making the whole mechanism look weak.

“This is the most important agreement since the Aichi’s targets were established and if countries ensure that the preivous mistakes are not repeated, it can bring a step-change in biodiveristy conservation.

“As with every sort of agreement, there is always room for improvement. The goals and targets adopted are a great step forward, but many fail at being too broad therefore their implementation will be complex. Ultimately, the success of these goals and targets will depend on the willingness of the countries and the willingness to cooperate and compromise in lieu of biodiversity conservation.”


Dr Jeff Price, Senior Researcher, University of East Anglia, said:

“Previous efforts were largely not met (e.g., Aichi targets).  While the 30×30 goal is ambitious, past records are not good in it being accomplished (although it is possible to do so in most countries, some will require restoration to meet them).  Most of the work I am familiar with that looks at ‘bending the curve’ of biodiversity loss does not take into account climate change.  This is unfortunate because climate change is having an impact on distributions and on local extinctions (IPCC AR6). Once climate change is also taken into account then it becomes increasingly difficult to meet the goals of avoiding biodiversity loss (at least local biodiversity loss) with preserving natural habitats (30%).  Once warming exceeds 2C and as it approaches 3C then restoration alone can’t make up the difference.  Setting aside land is always worthwhile, and provides some protection and places for dispersing animals to move into.  However, unless climate change is brought under control and actions start to make a meaningful difference to holding the warming to 2C (or 1.5C!) then the curve of biodiversity loss simply cannot be bent – biodiversity loss will continue even if the 30×30 goals are met.”



Declared interests

Dr Andrew Terry: “ZSL does provide a number of indicators that are part of the formal monitoring framework to the GBF, but otherwise no interests that may conflict.”

Dr Jeff Price: “I had no part in the CBD CoP but was a Lead and Contributing Author on IPCC AR6, Working Group 2.  My paid employment is to be an expert on climate change and biodiversity but it is in an academic setting so is unconstrained (academic freedom).  I am an author on a paper that examines 30×30 in North America that will be published in January (it has been in press for almost a year so pre-dated the COP but the target of 30×30 has been around for a long time.  The forthcoming paper is based on my global work so, more to come.  I also look at the Half for Nature goals (and whether even the original 17% Aichi targets are sustainable under climate change) but that is science not policy.”

Dr Nick Isaac: “I have received funds from UK Government to work on the development of biodiversity targets for England.”

Prof Tom Oliver has been seconded with Defra to help design their ‘systems research programme’. His research on biodiversity change has been used in Defra’s UK Indicators and by the UK Government’s Natural Capital Committee. He has provided consultancy on topics of social and ecological resilience to the UK Environment Agency and European Environment Agency. He is currently seconded with the Government Office for Science an Technology and is author of a book on our human connection to nature published by W&N (2020).

Dr Imma Oliveras Menor: “I declare no interests.”

Prof Alexandre Antonelli: “Co-founder of the academic startup CAPTAIN which develops open and free software for researchers.”

Prof Andy Purvis: “None.”

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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