The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is taking place in Montreal, Canada, until next Monday (December 19).  It has been attracting much attention due to negotiations on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which is hoped to be agreed upon in the next few days. This would be an important milestone has base been described as the “biodiversity equivalent of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change”.  The aims is to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and establish long-term goals by 2050.

The urgency for a global goal to reverse biodiversity loss has increased, due to studies that indicate that 25% of all assessed plant and animal species are threatened by human actions and which suggest that one million species already face extinction. Also, from the economic standpoint, and according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), “$44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services”.  WEF’s Global Risks Report 2022 classified biodiversity loss as the third “most severe risk on a global scale over the next 10 years”.

With the approval of GBF, one of the main expectations is that parties make commitments in order to guarantee the effective protection of 30% of land and seas by 2030.  This goal is supported by most countries.

However, a thorny topic on which consensus is far from being reached relates to the sharing of Digital Sequence Information (DSI). Indeed, this could lead to an important broadening of the scope of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, which so far applies to physical genetic resources accessed and utilized notably for research and development purposes.  This is the digital data of genetic codes stored in databases that can be accessed from around the world and are now commonly utilized by companies to formulate drugs and technologies without having to physically access the physical resource in its country of origin. This creates huge challenges in terms of identification of the country of origin of the information accessed and setting benefit-sharing mechanisms. The draft GBF (which still contains many square brackets, representing open negotiating points) provides that the access to genetic and biological resources (including via DSI) is subject to fair and equitable benefit sharing with origin countries and their traditional communities. Another thorny issue relates to the support of innovative schemes, such as nature-based solutions and biodiversity offsets. 

After the first week of COP15, discussions made limited progress on key issues involving GBF and DSI benefit sharing. As regards the draft GBF text, discussions have struggled in relation to “Target 7”, which determines the reduction of pollution and mentions specifically the use of pesticides. Argentina, India, Uruguay and Brazil, for example, supported deleting pesticides from the text, suggesting that pesticides are necessary to ensure global food security, while Canada, Switzerland and the EU were against this proposal. In relation to DSI, discussions revolve around, whether DSI benefit-sharing should be addressed in the GBF and the creation of a multilateral mechanism which would retain 1% of the revenues from products developed using DSI in order to share the benefits with the originating countries. Other proposals on how to implement the benefit sharing mechanism are also in consideration.

In relation to resource mobilization, parties have already agreed that establishing a definitive strategy would not be possible by the end of the Conference and a two-step proposal was considered by the parties: the establishment of an interim strategy for 2022 to 2024 and the adoption of a 2024-2030 strategy during COP16. Parties also intensively discussed whether the Global Environmental Facility would be sufficient for gathering resources or if a new Global Biodiversity Fund would be needed.

Although not much progress seemed to be made in the first week of COP15, the scene-setting statements and discussions were important to define the course of the second half of the Conference.