Playing chess with the world’s biodiversity

©Jean Boris Hamon

The Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and Africa’s future

A blog by ACB’s Sabrina Masinjila, Linzi Lewis and Mariam Mayet 

The crafting of a new GBF

In 2018, Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) embarked on multilateral intergovernmental talks toward crafting a new global deal to curb global biodiversity loss (the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)1 (see more below*)

©Paul Kagame.2018.Africa Sharm El Sheikh

 

 

The adoption of the CBD

The CBD, adopted in 1992 at United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) – famously known as the Rio Conference or Rio/Earth Summit – along with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), are together known as the Rio Conventions. 

The CBD, an international legally binding agreement, aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The CBD has near universal participation among countries and has been ratified by 196 Parties

Global context on biodiversity loss 

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystems of 2019 paints a frightening picture of the current state of global biodiversity.  

To highlight some of its findings: 

- Over 85% of wetlands (area) have been lost, 
- 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forests have disappeared between 2010 and 2015, 
- An abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has declined by 20%; and
- 1 million species in animal and plant groups face extinction. 

Furthermore, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are disappearing. Globally, by 2016, an alarming 559 of 6 190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct and at least 1 000 more had become threatened. This scenario has dire implications for food security and the resiliency of many agricultural systems, particularly regarding increased risks posed by the variability of temperature and precipitation patterns, and pests and pathogens, because of climate change. This doomsday scenario is a direct result of human activities and the IPBES report outlines the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss. 

Direct drivers include:

- Changes in land and sea use; 
- exploitation of organisms; 
- climate change; 
- pollution and 
- proliferation of invasion of alien species, 
which have drastically accelerated over the past 50 years. 

Indirect drivers include:

- Societal values and behaviours such as 
production and consumption patterns, 
human population dynamics and trends, 
- trade, 
- technological innovations, and
- governance of nature, from the local to the global levels. 

Declining biodiversity in Africa 

The African continent, endowed with rich biodiversity coupled with a vast wealth of indigenous and local knowledge, holds much of the world’s intact biodiversity and ecosystems. It boasts 369 wetlands of international importance (Ramsar sites), 142 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1 255 important bird and biodiversity areas, and 158 Alliance for Zero extinction sites. It also hosts eight of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots – the Earth’s most biologically rich and threatened areas – where large numbers of species are threatened.2

Most of the African population depend directly or indirectly on natural resources to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, medicine, housing, and animal feed. However, the African continent is facing rapid erosion of its resource base, what with the current fast-paced development taking place, which targets infrastructure, telecommunications, energy, transport, resource extraction, and large-scale agro-industrialisation. Around 20% of Africa’s land surface is said to be degraded. In South Africa, 60% of the land is degraded and about 50% of ecosystems are categorised as threatened. In Angola, about 34% of birds are endangered and the country is losing an estimated 106 000 hectares of natural forest a year. By 1999, 80% of Nigeria's forests had already disappeared. In Zimbabwe, much of the dry montane forests and grasslands have been removed to make way for cash cropping, plantations, and gold mining, with further decimation by illegal logging and veld fires.3 

The implications of this biodiversity loss for African smallholder farmers – the predominant population on the continent – are huge. There is extensive loss of the wealth of diverse indigenous seed as a result of the expansion of industrial agriculture and the legal and institutional architecture upholding these unsustainable systems in place. This poses a threat to the resiliency of food and farming systems across the continent. Already we are witnessing the complete collapse of ecosystems and their functioning – often erroneously referred to as ecosystem services – such as soil maintenance and health; air purification; and pollination, which play a pivotal role in cushioning shocks such as floods and drought. 
But we know that the integrity of ecosystems goes far beyond the services it provides to humans alone, and in many ways, it is us humans – the co-habitants of this planet – that are responsible for the care and service of the Earth, which sustains us.  

This utilitarian and anthropocentric view of nature is a fundamental flaw in our relationship with Mother Earth and is being perpetuated in these multilateral negotiations. Yet corporate solutions and untested so-called innovations are being heralded as the game changer for combatting biodiversity loss. We are seeing a deepening of false, inequitable, market-based solutions, which have and will continue to threaten our ability to curb biodiversity decline and indeed the health of our Earth, while side-lining human rights and those who maintain and conserve biodiversity. Essentially, to date, the CBD has allowed for business-as-usual, by embedding the commodification, separation, and ownership of nature and knowledge and incentivising a focus on technological, privatised market-based mechanisms to solve underlying systemic, geopolitical and geo-economic issues and inequalities.

Where are we now?

At the international level, attempts were made to stem the tide of biodiversity loss by way of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which sets out 20 Targets (Aichi Targets) structured around five strategic goals and a monitoring framework.4 However, not one of the Aichi targets were met due in part to the lack of ambition, political will, non-alignment of targets with national priorities, and insufficient resources, among others. Now the GBF, which builds on the Aichi Targets, is aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, aiming to achieve a 2050 Vision of living in harmony with nature. However, the GBF represents heavily bracketed and extremely watered-down goals and targets and is disheartening and worrying:  in some cases, these are even less ambitious than the unattained Aichi targets, despite accelerated biodiversity loss. Indeed, the negotiations resemble a global chess game, with developing countries, particularly Africa, being on the losing side – given the continent’s economic subordination in the global economy.

Problematic proposals under the GBF 

As we enter the last leg of the negotiations, the question remains whether the GBF will really bring about much-needed shifts in the current situation, as the world grapples with multiple converging crises. Overall, what we are seeing is the continued bias towards conservation, which has failed to curb biodiversity loss in previous decades, and has a dismal track record of human rights violations. The dominating approach is  ‘fence and protect’ – also known as fortress conservation – with private landowners or large international NGOs securing funds to run protected areas. 

©Antti Lipponen

This approach is deeply exclusionary and requires the dispossession of communities to make way for the separation of humans and nature. It is built around a narrow, technicist body of knowledge on ecological protection that excludes knowledge and natural resource management systems of smallholder food producers, indigenous and local communities. 

Sustainable use, the second objective of the CBD, has been sorely neglected, and the third objective, access and benefit sharing (ABS) – as outlined in the Nagoya Protocol – has in many ways been a massive failure, with Northern companies and countries accessing genetic resources and associated knowledge for profit, with few benefits going to local communities, with no requirements to indicate what, if any, benefits have been shared, as this resides in confidential trade deals. This is even more concerning as the terms around digital sequence information (DSI) are being negotiated in parallel to these discussion. Whatever benefit sharing arrangements may be agreed by the Parties for access to DSI, these will not prevent biopiracy and patents on farmers’ seed given that it is also technically  impossible to ensure traceability from access to a new patented product on the market.

Currently, the GBF contains four long-term goals to be achieved by 2050 and 22 targets for action to be taken by 2030. Having participated in the process to date, we are deeply concerned about the state of these negotiations, which do not (and perhaps cannot) address the systemic issues driving biodiversity loss; over-exploitation and underdevelopment; and instability on our continent. 

Target 3, which in many ways is becoming an apex target of the GBF, intends to globally conserve 30% of land and ocean area by 2030. Powerful conservation groups have converged to promote this target under the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, to which over 50 countries have already signed onto, linked to the Campaign for Nature

We are deeply concerned about the rogue capital involved, operating behind the scenes, to support such measures, with limited participation and consideration for those who have a direct relationship with landscapes and biodiversity, and who maintain and nurture biodiversity and biodiverse landscapes. This furthers the interests of countries and companies that benefit from this divide. We are also witnessing the convergence between climate change and biodiversity Conventions in especially Target 8. While synergy between these issues is vital, it is also dangerous terrain, where new iterations of old, failed approaches, such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and Payment for Ecosystems Service (PES), are being used as scapegoats for reducing carbon emissions – under new terms of nature-based solutions (NBS), natural capital accounting, etc. These and the typologies of its uses are posed as climate mitigation tools that open the door for a raft of false “climate solutions” such as carbon and biodiversity offsets/carbon markets. These will not only deepen our existing crises but entrench continued extraction, dispossession and landgrabs, and provide a ruse for continued fossil fuel extraction, burning and emissions.

Target 10 deals with agriculture and other productive sectors, and taken together with the discussions under Targets 7 on pollution and harmful agrochemicals, and 17 and 19 on biotechnology and biosafety, the discussions overwhelmingly favour increased agriculture production and continued dependence on single-crop, productivity-raising technologies, such as genetic modification technologies and value chain development, which are largely driven and controlled by the corporate sector. 

We are of the view that the ecological crisis alongside economic injustice, poverty, and inequality on the African continent requires an urgent and complete re-think of food production and consumption trajectories towards ecological balance, human need, local solutions, and people’s economies. 

A critical gap is an absence of references to agricultural biodiversity and farmers’ rights, which is directly linked to all objectives of the CBD and essential for maintaining/protecting diversity for restoration, food security, and building resilience in the face of an ever-changing climate. There is little to no support for the recognition of smallholder farmers as key actors in the enhancement of agricultural biodiversity through sustainable forms of production such as family and community farming and agroecology, which put control of seed biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the continent.

The failure of multilateralism and the rise of corporate capture 

The current state of the negotiations points to the failure of multilateralism in this fora and the incremental corporate capture, which is occurring throughout the UN system. The false, market-based solutions on the negotiating table, and the colonial conservation approach being reinforced by the 30 x 30 target – will likely lead to the continued extraction and exploitation of nature, while displacing local and indigenous communities, small producers, and rural dwellers from their areas under the pretext of protecting and conserving biodiversity. 

The truth of the matter is that the only way we will be able to address the current multiple crises and biodiversity loss is to decouple the goals and targets from the wanton extraction of resources, biodiversity, water, minerals and soil fertility. This would require the decoupling from the power of capital and the narrow demands of economic elites, and place our ecosystems and communities at the centre of democratic thinking for a sustainable future. The vision of the GBF must rest on the human rights of all: the right to food and nutrition, health, education, clean drinking water, and social services, and the rights of women, workers, youth, and indigenous peoples. 
 

Implementation of the GBF and the kind of financial resources needed 

Developing countries are strongly arguing that the implementation of the GBF relies on adequate funding and capacity building, and thus discussions involving resource mobilisation have been heated. Various options have been discussed including that resources for implementation should come from Developed countries in terms of  Article 20 of the CBD,5 while other options include that financing could come from “all sources”, including development aid, international funds from multilateral banks and the private sector through blended finance. Unfortunately, there is no discussion about how finance capital has become a key driver of ecological and social devastation. We continue to witness the opening up of primary forests for mining, logging, plantations, and oil and gas extraction, which is aided by financialisation – a phenomenon understood as the growing power and influence of global finance, aptly labelled “rogue capitalism” by FIAN International. If the expansion of agribusiness and monoculture plantations has historically been associated with loans and credits from financial institutions, the pace and scale of finance capitalism in agriculture has reached new rapacious heights in promoting the dispossession of rural people and communities from their territories.

The need for a transformative GBF to serve the interests of Africa, its people and ecologies

The dominant neoliberal economic model maintains local and global inequalities and reinforces imperialist and colonial relationships between the North and the South, with a few corporates and elites benefitting while the majority suffer. At the same time, African governments are complicit in facilitating and imposing ecologically and socially damaging development models on its peoples – for short-term gains –  which reinforces indebtedness, inequalities and social exclusion; and deepens dependency on fossil fuel and capital-intensive projects, furthering entrapment within global agricultural and forest value chains. These contribute to creating conditions for extreme vulnerability to shocks and gross violation of human rights. The killing of human rights defenders are well documented, especially those at the forefront of opposing extractivist projects – particularly of mining projects. Hence, as we head towards Montreal for the final leg of negotiations and decision-making by the Parties, there is a huge amount of work to be done, to enhance the right to food and generally, human rights and the ecological well-being of our continent, and placing these at the centre. A flawed GBF will only make things worse for Africa. 

South Africa’s draft White paper on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use offers an interesting perspective of how the situation has changed at national level, despite the apparent looming failure of international talks. While the ACB is still interrogating this draft overarching policy, the progressive nature of the policy – aiming to transform colonial and militarised conservation approaches, and aligned with the right to a safe, healthy and dignified environment, as enshrined in the South African Constitution and African philosophy of Ubuntu – offers a glimmer of hope. 

Addressing structural issues at the CBD is key, with new conceptualisations of international cooperation needed to ensure that inclusive decisions are taken for the benefit of Planet Earth and not its exploitation, commodification and financialisation. Of particular importance, Africa’s rich tapestry of biodiversity needs to be protected as well as how this is utilised in a way that upholds the rights of its populations and nature and promotes equity and social justice.

*CBD intergovernmental talks towards drafting the GBF

These talks were organised by the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) – an intersessional body tasked with the development of the GBF – through both in-person and virtual meetings.  
Two in-person meetings – (OEWG1) and (OEWG2) – took place in Nairobi (27-30 August 2019) and Rome (24-29 February 2020) respectively, when a zero draft of the framework was produced. With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, these negotiations were derailed, which saw a shift to virtual meetings for the Subsidiary Body on Scientific Technical and Technological Advice (SBSSTA),6 the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI)7 and an OEWG3. These virtual negotiations were grossly inequitable, adversely affecting many developing country Parties and civil society organisations (CSOs) for many reasons, including poor internet connectivity and bad timing of the meetings, which disadvantaged participation, especially of Parties in the global South. In Geneva (14-29 March 2022), resumed meetings of OEWG3 on the first draft of the GBF – released in July 2021 – took place followed by OEWG4 in Nairobi (21-6 June). The GBF will eventually be presented for consideration at the resumed session of the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of Parities (COP-15) in Montreal, Canada, from 5-17 December 2022. 

Footnotes

1. This process was mandated by decision 14/34 adopted at the Conference of the Parties (COP) – a governing body to the CBD – in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt 2018.

2. https://ipbes.net/assessment-reports/africa 

3. https://www.acbio.org.za/sites/default/files/neo-colonial-economies-ecologies-smallholder-farmers-and-multiple-shocks.pdf 

4. These set benchmarks for improvements across drivers, pressures, the state of biodiversity, benefits derived from it, and the implementation of relevant policies and enabling conditions. https://www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo5/publication/gbo-5-en.pdf

5. Article 20 of the CBD obligates developed *countries to provide new and additional financial resources to enable developing countries to effectively implement the CBD – but this obligation has not been met.

6. An open-ended intergovernmental scientific advisory body that reports regularly to the COP on all aspects of its work. Its functions include: providing assessments of the status of biological diversity; assessments of the types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention; and respond to questions that the COP may put to the body.

7. A body of the CBD that report regularly to the COP on all aspects of its work. Its functions include: providing assessments of the status of biological diversity; assessments of the types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention; and respond to questions that the COP may put to the body

©Jean Boris Hamon