This blog will be updated regularly with key insights and outcomes from the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), currently taking place in Montreal, Canada from 7-19 December. Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) is there in its role as a coordinator of the agricultural biodiversity working group of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC), which is negotiating with other delegates on the draft Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
COP15 came excruciatingly close to earning the label of the “Copenhagen for biodiversity”, a derogatory reference to the 2009 climate COP, where parties failed to reach an agreement. In the end, however, an agreement was reached in Montréal.
Almost 200 Parties struck a deal on the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), a text that lays out four goals and 23 targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The GBF is the successor to the Aichi targets, none of which were achieved, to which countries agreed in 2010.
Lessons learned, one would hope, but to achieve agreement in Montreal, the GBF targets were negotiated and whittled down to such vague and contradictory language that it will be hard to track Parties’ performances in a meaningful way over the years.
We’ll go through some of the details, but first it’s worth noting that this was a COP without global leaders, because practically all the heads of state and government opted not to show up, diminishing the political weight of the conference. The Chinese government itself, which was to host the summit that ended up in Canada due to China’s pandemic restrictions, kept a low profile.
The IPC participated in Montreal during the first half of COP15, and attended the second remotely, bringing the voices of small-scale food producers, hundreds of millions of people globally who play a key role in preserving and reproducing biodiversity.
What was agreed? The headlines are all about the 30×30 target. It aims to ensure that 30% of land and water ecosystems are in protected areas by 2030, though the text was improved by the inclusion of ‘and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognizing indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable’. We were not particularly enthusiastic about ‘protected areas’, because we know that the best way to protect and respect biodiversity is to live as part of the web of life, not by locking up parts of the world in ‘fortress conservation’, and kicking local communities or Indigenous Peoples out of their customary lands and territories. That is the risk of the 30×30 approach, which stems from the idea that humanity and the rest of nature are separate entities. Another concern we have is: what about the land and waters outside of the 30%? Do Parties believe they can have the other 70% at their complete disposal to keep doing business as usual?
It will take money to achieve many of the targets, billions of dollars that must be diverted away from industrial farming and fishing and other extractive and biodiversity-harming industries, while directing support to small-scale food producers. The total resources to be mobilised through the Global Biodiversity Fund amount to USD 200 billion by 2030, but public money is just 10% of that figure, with the rest supposed to come from private funds and philanthropic entities. This is a deeply flawed approach – we cannot entrust the fate of planetary biodiversity to private individuals and financial institutions.
We need a complete paradigm shift and change of approach. Thanks to Bolivia’s indefatigable efforts, ‘Mother Earth centric actions and non-market-based approaches’ are promoted in Target 19, but situated exasperatingly just below the promotion of leveraging private funds, blended financing and other capitalist false solutions including ‘payment for ecosystem services, green bonds, biodiversity offsets and credits’. We may have kept ‘nature-positive’ and ‘nature-based solutions’ out of the final text, but offsets and credits are central to the ongoing capitalist discourses that continue to seek to turn the cascading crises of biodiversity loss and climate change into financial opportunities for the few.
In some good news, the agreement aims to eliminate at least USD 500 billion of subsidies considered harmful for biodiversity. However, no specific subsidies are mentioned after reference to those related to agriculture and fisheries were cut from the final text.
A significant win is the promotion of agroecology in Target 10 after years of sustained advocacy from the IPC. However, big exporting countries – especially Brazil and Argentina – pushed back hard, insisting that Parties agree to put “sustainable intensification” in front of agroecology as a condition of including agroecology in the target. Target 10 is also where the promotion of sustainable fisheries found a place. The problem is that there is no distinction between small-scale fishing communities and industrial trawlers. We advocated for small scale fishing communities to be considered part of the dialogue on sustainable biodiversity management as rights-holders, instead of being removed from their territories by conservation projects that often turn into abuses. As we told The Guardian recently, if governments only focus on creating marine protected areas, without consulting small-scale fishing communities, actively involving them or entrusting them with direct management, we will lose their unique knowledge, that represents a way out of the crisis, towards a world where humans live in harmony with nature.
One issue that has been particularly on our radar is the ongoing debate on genetic resources and digital sequence information (DSI). We’ve been following the CBD process since 2018 and have always pushed to safeguard farmers’ rights to the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources, as well as their right to be properly rewarded for industry’s use of species selected and maintained by peasants, local communities and Indigenous Peoples. We see instead that agricultural biodiversity is often taken away from small-scale farmers by seed and biotechnology companies, to develop commercial varieties protected by intellectual property rights.
To date, it has been very difficult to achieve a benefit-sharing mechanism that can actually work, and the growing digitisation of genetic resources and their conversion into data, brings the risk of making it impossible. DSI, digital sequence information, defines data derived from genetic resources. These data can be stored in public or private databases without recognition of their origins. For example, DSI from a landrace selected and grown on Indigenous land could be published in an open access journal, then used to create a patented drug without the need for the plant itself, and thus without compensating the plant’s original custodians for this ‘invention’.
The risk of DSI, in the end, is to legitimise and legalise biopiracy.
The good news is that at COP15 in Montréal, Parties agreed to consider DSI as genetic information and not mere data, thus they are covered by Nagoya Protocol (which provides that benefits arising from the use of genetic resources are fairly shared). Hence, the agreement requires Parties to develop a multilateral mechanism for sharing the benefits of the DSI, including a global fund. This should happen in the coming years, but big questions remain unanswered: who governs the fund? Who will fill it up with money? How will the monetary and non-monetary benefits be distributed? How much will they amount to?
Despite these loopholes, several African countries were satisfied with the outcome. Academia and industry, on the other hand, fought against the agreement, defending “open access” to data. It’s galling to see researchers advocating for “open access” to genetic resources, not taking into account that the results of their work from open access sources are then bought by a few multinational corporations, covered by intellectual property rights and monopolised. We note with concern the consolidation of an intellectual-industrial complex devoted to profit instead of the general interest and respect for farmers’ rights.
There’s a lot of work to do.
But we’re ready to do our part and push for the implementation of the most promising parts of the GBF. For a framework that was supposed to last 10 years – originally COP15 was supposed to take place in 2020, postponed due to the pandemic – there are now only 8 years left to achieve the goals and targets. From here, countries will meet every two years to discuss progress, and the IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) will report on progress. The next COP will have important topics to discuss such as the uptake of agroecology globally, benefit sharing and DSI, the impact of agriculture on soil biodiversity, and much more. And the IPC will be there, once again, to stand up for the rights of small-scale food producers.
Farewell to Montreal, but the struggle continues…
There are many ways to fight a battle, and in this case Stefano and Tammi have headed home, from where we will continue to publish our positions in the daily ECO magazine at the COP, as well as exchanging ideas and positions with other organisations and with some Parties in hopes of achieving a meaningful outcome for the Global Biodiversity Framework.
Last night a contact group debated Target 7, which aims to reduce pesticide, fertiliser and plastic use due to their negative consequences for biodiversity. When the group wound up a bit after midnight, they had decimated one of the more ambitious original targets. Initially Target 7 aimed to reduce pesticide use by two thirds, excess nutrient lost to the environment (from fertilisers) by at least half, and completely eradicate plastic pollution. When the big exporting countries got done with it, ‘reduce’ was in brackets, there was a proposal for ‘judicious use of pesticides’, and one that Parties ‘act in accordance with WTO rules’.
It seems the strong negotiators from the big exporting countries in the south must have a tactic to put in so many terrible revisions that the other Parties will eventually concede on some bigger points, such as the inclusion/exclusion of agroecology or UNDROP. We really hope more ambitious and concerned Parties are strategising on how to deal with these tactics, and drawing lines they won’t cross when it comes to developing a framework that will halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
Writing this in the Montreal airport already feels a long way from the intensity of the COP, but just as we have long asserted the integral relationship between nature and humans, the role of politics is also integral to human society. Unfortunately, the saying that ‘the future belongs to those who show up’ is all too often true, in spite of the inequities in who is able to turn up (or given a write to speak if they do). Just because we are physically distant does not mean we will separate ourselves from the COP process or dealing with its outcomes. And while we won’t be writing daily briefings now that we are distant, expect further updates over the week ahead as the COP continues to unfold.
Notes from COP15: Day 6 (8 Dec)
A major topic of debate on day two was whether to include UNDROP as well as UNDRIP. You can see our thoughts on this debate in our earlier briefings and in two of the daily ECO publications made available to delegates here at COP. We will only add that one Party made the erroneous claim that UNDROP is not asserting collective rights, only individual rights, whereas UNDRIP is asserting collective rights. This is false, and one of so many examples where ‘Party’s privilege’ to say whatever they want can be the fake news that leads to terrible decision making.
At lunchtime we had the opportunity to participate in a side event – Missing the Mark? Global Biodiversity Targets Risk Failure without Agroecology and Agricultural Biodiversity – hosted by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. Alongside speakers from the African Centre for Biodiversity, Friends of the Earth International, La Sociedad Cientifica Latinoamerica de Agroecologia (SOCLA), and Agropolis, IPC members Saul Vicente (International Indian Treaty Council) and Tammi Jonas (Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance) spoke about agroecology on the ground, and warned the audience to be cautious of ‘scaling up’ rather than ‘scaling out’ agroecology, and to be conscious of the need for balance between recognition by the state (such as in the Global Biodiversity Framework) and making ourselves too legible to the state, and ergo subject to further loss of autonomy. Georgina reminded everyone that IPBES has identified five direct causes for loss of biodiversity, and that out of those agroecology can address four: land use change, pollution, natural resource use & exploitation, climate change), making obvious why agroecology should be included in the GBF.
We were pleased to hear from the Director General for Global Affairs at Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico’s Chief Climate and Biodiversity Negotiator Camila Zepeda, who clearly articulated Mexico’s support for agroecology and spoke of the growing Agroecology Coalition, which now has over 40 member states along with 79 NGOs and IGOs.
The evening session (7:30pm to 10:30pm, though it didn’t finish until closer to 11pm) nearly broke your weary activists, as we endured a Contact Group debating outcomes of the last Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), apparently with very little scientific or technical knowledge in the room. The session was entirely focused on one agenda item: a review of the May 2021 meeting report on the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity and updated plan of action. The way of these things is that the Secretariat provide a written report inclusive of diverging views in the dreaded brackets. Due to the Chatham House rules of Contact Groups, we are not at liberty to share our photos of the textual revisions nor name Parties, but we share below the lowlights of an excruciating few hours listening not only to oligarchs politically whittle down a scientific report so they can maintain many unsustainable practices, but also a mind-numbing ignorance from some Parties that led to a depressing gutting of the soil biodiversity plan of action.
Agroecology v ‘Sustainable Intensification’
The original text had options for [agroecology and ecological intensification] / [sustainable agricultural practices identified by IPBES] / [agroecology and sustainable intensification]. Parties who have joined the Agroecology Coalition came out in strong support of agroecology, and most wanted ‘sustainable intensification’ deleted. However, with the usual suspects (big exporting countries) going hard against agroecology and for sustainable intensification, there was ultimately a stalemate, and the latter option was left in brackets for later debate in plenary.
Reduction of agrichemicals v ‘risk of use’
One of the action points was originally focused on ‘science-based risk assessment procedures’ of a list of agrichemicals (e.g. antibiotics, pesticides, and fertilisers), with one bracketed attempt to reduce the [production and use of synthetic fertilisers]. While one of the Parties repeatedly brought up about Parties’ obligations to the WTO (and later admitted they previously worked for the WTO), another said they could not see how their country could reduce fertiliser use, so it could not be included. First they deleted [reduce production], and subsequently [reduce use] was downgraded to ‘reduce the risk of use’. The move to delete reference to production and maintain the reference to use – e.g. corporations don’t need to reduce production, just get farmers to use less (how’s your math?), came from the Global North, while attempts to reject reduction in use were from the Global South. The colonial cycle of exploitation, ecological devastation, and leaving the mess to the South continues. It was as though these negotiators, many of whom have worked on the more ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework currently under negotiation, arrived in this room with a ‘phew! Thank goodness that GBF stuff is over and we can go back to normal!’
What does soil have to do with human health and well being?
Perhaps the most outrageous move of the day also demonstrated the serious risk of non-systems-thinkers in charge of our future, where the crises are so deeply interlinked. An action that could result in greater food safety (along with a host of other benefits from ecosystem-based approaches, such as food security and reducing water scarcity risk), had [food safety] stricken out when a big exporting country said they didn’t think soil biodiversity had anything to do with food safety, and we should stay focused on the mandate of the CBD (to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, and share the benefits of use with traditional custodians).
This vein continued to bleed when another proposed action that related soil biodiversity to [human health and well being] was considered. The same openly odious actors said soil has nothing to do with human health, and one called for ‘scientific evidence’. The idea that human health is unrelated to soil health sounds like a Trumpism.
Note that the 616-page 2020 FAO State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity report, which was sent with the meeting documents under consideration by the SBSTTA members, offers a great deal of evidence about the relationship between soil biodiversity and health and the health of all aspects of ecosystems. Take just this one quote for a sense of how much evidence this ‘scientific’ group has been provided:
‘Moreover, soil biota break down contaminants such as pesticides (Fenner et al., 2013), produce antibiotics (Nesme et al., 2014), clean water that percolates through the soil profile, and prevent leaching of nutrients into ground and drinking water (Bender and van der Heijden, 2016). Thus, it is important to consider that soil organisms play multiple roles in ecosystems and influence multiple ecosystem functions (multifunctionality).’ (FAO 2020)
We left the final session in total disgust at the level of debate. We now find some relief in writing out things we are not allowed to say while people without the world’s interests at heart try their best to drag this work to the gutter. While we appreciate that it is complicated for those who genuinely want to see a world where we live in harmony with nature, we urge them to speak up – use your own Party’s privilege to say whatever it takes to halt and reverse biodiversity loss NOW.
Notes from COP15: Day 5 (7 Dec)
It was an early start on Wednesday, the first day of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) here in Montreal. We arrived before 8am in case the queues at security were long, as the number of attendees significantly swell for the COP, and of course the city has been (over-)preparing for protests on this first day. The ritual of ‘masks on, hats, coats, and scarves off, badge on, negative RAT test presented, computers out of bags and through security, bag re-packed, let’ go’ has become quite familiar, if not quite homely.
As we explained earlier, the first week was the final meetings of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), after four years of such meetings in addition to several meetings of the two technical sub-committees (SBSTTA and SBI). In theory, all of this ‘expert’ work could have resulted in a relatively clean draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework for final negotiation and approval at the COP. In truth, we have a text full of square brackets that presents a major challenge to take to consensus in the next two weeks.
Wednesday commenced with opening comments from Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Following in the vein of Guterres’ strong call to action, Andersen spoke of facing the ‘five horsemen of the apocalypse’ and urged Parties to ‘remove brackets’ from the contested text of the Framework. We hope that Andersen’s reminder that we are ‘deep in the triple planetary crisis’ – of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution and waste spurs the more recalcitrant and self-interested (mostly large exporting) countries to somewhat more altruistic action.
The International Indigenous Forum for Biodiversity (IIFB) spoke strongly in their opening statement, calling for the ‘fundamental principles’ in draft section B of the GBF to include UNDRIP, FPIC, and their rights to land and territories. Their clear list of demands included the need for a solution to DSI that assures the right to traditional knowledge and genetic resources, and a framework that ensures their full participation in governance and decision making.
The IPC was not given an opportunity to speak for small-scale food producers as we are still not an identified constituency in the CBD, as we have been reporting. We have shared our statement on the CBD website, and share it here:
Opening Statement of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty
Thank you, chair. I acknowledge we are meeting on the lands of the Kanien’kéha Nation.
I am Tammi Jonas, a small-scale farmer from the unceded lands of the Djaara, to whose elders past and present I pay my respects. I also pay my respects to all Indigenous Peoples here. I am here representing the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, a global alliance of small-scale food producers.
We heard a hard truth on Monday from a member of the African Group, who said:
If we had just acted on what we agreed at the beginning of the Convention, we wouldn’t have the biodiversity crisis we’re in. We are not here to re-negotiate the Convention.
As some of us live through the planet’s sixth mass extinction, agricultural biodiversity is disappearing. Industrial agriculture, forestry, and fisheries use homogeneous proprietary seeds, trees, breeds and aquatic species, bred and/or genetically modified to include limited traits, tailored to be useful to industry rather than to Mother Earth and all her human and more than human children.
We have seen how some governments allow companies to subvert the aims of the Convention by using DSI, where they are able to access seeds under the multilateral system without any rule. Before benefit sharing, we want rules that will make sure our seeds or their native traits are not patented or used in ways that will prevent our rights in using, saving, exchanging or selling them.
Food production and consumption epitomizes our interrelationship with nature. Agroecology respects and nurtures these complex relationships, and the promotion of agroecology in the Global Biodiversity Framework is critical to implementing a coherent conservation approach.
On my farm, we practice agroecology. In our diverse, degrowth approach, we raise heritage breed Large Black pigs and cattle on diverse pastures that are spongy and alive with mycorrhizae and rich with up to 8% soil organic carbon.
Like hundreds of millions of other smallholders around the world, living a life made in common with Nature, we conserve and sustainably use the biodiversity in our care, and as non-Indigenous Australians, we share the benefits of our sustainable use by paying a percentage of our income to local First Peoples.
The CBD has no recognized constituency for small-scale food producers, who are rights holders under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP). This is the first biodiversity COP since UNDROP was ratified in 2018, and smallholders must be provided greater recognition and protection by referencing UNDROP in the new Global Biodiversity framework.
Everyone in this room knows the urgency we face to halt and reverse the biodiversity loss. Parties must remember your responsibility to future generations over these days, and put aside narrow national interests for the greater good.
Notes from COP15: Day 4 (7 Dec), Opening Ceremony of the COP
The day started with an online meeting with members of the IPC working group on agricultural biodiversity who could not join us this week in Montreal. We updated the team on the details beyond what we’ve been recounting in our daily briefings and strategised together how best to deal with the issues highest on our agenda:
- Ensuring small-scale food producers are recognised and protected for their/our role as custodians of biodiversity in agroecosystems in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), through reference to UNDROP and the creation of a constituency within the CBD processes;
- The promotion of agroecological principles and approaches in the GBF, in particular in Target 10;
- Regulation of DSI to protect the rights of smallholders to our seeds, and to ensure benefit sharing where traditional knowledge and/or genetic resources have been obtained with FPIC.
We had a rare bit of time then to walk into Old Montreal for a meal while we wrote our daily briefing and prepared for the next day’s opening statement to the COP from the IPC. Then it was back into the fortress Convention Centre – a whole city block where we meet is completely surrounded by barricades as police have been preparing for protests against the COP. We’ve had a few discussions about whether we would join the protestors or stay inside, with the risk of not being allowed to rejoin the meetings carefully weighed against the never ending question of just how much we can achieve from the inside anyway…
The Opening Ceremony hosted around 1000 people – Parties, UN organisations, IGOs, NGOs, private sector organisations, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women and youth. After we were welcomed by Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation Tadodaho, who stressed the need to ‘put our minds together as one and act together as one’, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the delegation and urged strong action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. In the midst of Trudeau’s welcome, a group of young Indigenous People from the west coast of Canada staged a protest through the plenary room, demanding land rights and justice for First Nations, to ringing applause from the majority present.
Next it was time for UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres to address the room, and he gave a stirring oration, starting with: ‘Nature is humanity’s best friend. Without nature, we have nothing. Without nature, we are nothing. Nature is our life-support system.’ We were especially taken by his fiercer words when Guterres said,
‘Multinational corporations are filling their bank accounts while emptying our world of its natural gifts. Ecosystems have become playthings of profit. With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction.’
However, while most of the newly arrived members of the public cheered, we applauded with mixed feelings. We knew that once the grand ambitions had been declared by the global leaders, the task of setting the biodiversity agenda for the next 10 years would be back in the hands of negotiators sent to defend narrow national interests.
The ceremony concluded with a series of wonderful First Nations and traditional settler performances – with a particularly arresting duet by incredible throat singers.
The welcome reception found us catching up with old comrades and new colleagues, reflecting on the past week’s negotiations and the four years that got us here, and focusing on how to influence the process ahead rather than speculating on just how bad the worst of the Parties might be.
More on the Opening Ceremony here, with photos.
Notes from COP15: Day 3 (6 Dec)
“If we had just acted on what we agreed at the beginning of the Convention, we wouldn’t have the biodiversity crisis we’re in. We are not re-negotiating the Convention.”
With these words from a wise Party from the African Group, we commenced another day of excruciating negotiations.
Goal C of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is about sharing the benefits of access to Indigenous Peoples’ genetic resources and their associated traditional knowledges. To give readers an idea of how countries debate some of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a number wanted to reject the language of implementing benefit sharing ‘in accordance with’ legal instruments such as UNDRIP, and instead replace this with ‘taking into account’ UNDRIP, etc.
Imagine you are driving your car and are pulled over for going twice the speed limit. The police says to you that you were not driving in accordance with the speed limit. You respond, ‘officer, I took it into account, and chose not to follow it.’ Too many of the world’s countries try to reject accountability mechanisms at every corner in this way, which is why we are in the midst of the multiple crises that face us today.
Target 10 is a critical target for our movement, focusing on how to shift food and fibre production (while ignoring processing, distribution and consumption). Currently the target reads:
Ensure that [all] areas under agriculture, aquaculture, [fisheries], forestry, [and other productive uses] are managed sustainably, in particular through the sustainable use of biodiversity, contributing to [the long-term] [efficiency, productivity and] resilience of these production systems, conserving and restoring biodiversity and maintaining nature’s contribution to people, including ecosystem services and functions.
Debate centred around ‘long-term’ and whether it is attached to ‘efficiency and productivity’ or ‘resilience’ – where you put the qualifier matters. It was gratifying to see several countries express concerns about ‘long-term’ being attached to ‘efficiency’ or ‘productivity’, noting it should be about ‘resilience’, which would then underpin long-term productivity. Some of the large exporting countries were vocal about wanting to delete ‘long-term’, making arguments that if the focus is on productivity, resilience will follow, in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
We were delighted when a champion of Mother Earth brought back ‘agroecological principles and other biodiversity-friendly practices’ from the Nairobi text, which had been deleted by the Informal Group we told you about in our Day One Briefing. While many Parties subsequently spoke in support of the addition, delight was soon followed by dismay when a southern large exporting country used one of their most common obstructive negotiating tactics to suggest that the only way to include agroecology and maintain ‘consistency and balance’ was to also bring back their laundry list of demands:
‘substantially increasing sustainable intensification through innovation, including by scaling up beneficial biotechnology applications for agricultural productivity and stimulating the development of climate-resilient crops, eliminating and phasing out trade-distorting agricultural subsidies, supporting the establishment of seed banks in developing countries.’
The utter lack of scruples on show in these negotiations is difficult to watch. We think of our children and their children, the lost forests of the Amazon, all the threatened species from the microbial to the Mountain Ash, and wonder how some of them sleep at night.
The final report of the working group delivered a text riddled with contradictions and gaps, seemingly without a way forward as COP15 starts today. But the IPC remains active in our optimism, actively promoting the inclusion of UNDROP and the recognition of peasants as key custodians of biodiversity alongside the world’s Indigenous Peoples.
Notes from COP15: Day 2 (5 Dec)
Day 2 of the final working group negotiations before a full draft Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) goes to COP15 primarily centred around two key areas of concern:
how to deal with the increasing developments around synthetic biology and digital sequence information (DSI); and the fundamental questions of which kinds of ecosystems should be prioritised for protection (intact, threatened, most vulnerable, hardest to restore…)
While DSI was rather quickly sent to what is called a ‘friends of the chair’ process (meaning a smaller number of Parties negotiate a text to return to the bigger Contact Group sessions), debates around biotech and whether synthetic biology or gene drives are genetic modification continued. The social movements inclusive of Friends of the Earth International, ETC Group, Third World Network and many other excellent organisations have a strong campaign for transparency and accountability around all biotech, including very strong advocacy for horizon scanning, assessment and monitoring of new technologies as they arise. The potential consequences of biotech developments such as gene drives extend to total extinction of species deemed ‘pests’ such as mosquitoes, which are not only carriers of malaria and other serious human diseases, but also actors in complex ecosystems filling a niche that should not be left vacant.
In regards to priorities for ecosystem protection, debates were largely around whether to value and protect ‘all’ ecosystems, and whether that protection should be to ‘minimise loss’ or the more ambitious ‘retain all’. There was a well-rehearsed exchange between North and South that started with the creation of the CBD at the 1992 Rio Summit, with debates around what protection of ‘all’ ecosystems means when your country has 5% intact ecosystems, compared with those with 60%, bringing up some of the old debates around ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ that acknowledge the majority of the world’s biodiversity is in the Global South, and yet its destruction is largely due to the activities of the Global North.
We had a momentous victory on this day, as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants (UNDROP) made it into the framework alongside the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), finally acknowledging with reference to these international instruments that Indigenous Peoples and peasants are distinct rights holders with a serious stake in biodiversity conservation, and the most to lose from the ongoing loss of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. The work of some of the movement’s most experienced and longest-standing activists, combined with genuine commitment from a couple of Parties who are demonstrably advocating for a transformative framework that can lead the world away from the crisis of the world’s sixth mass extinction is what achieved this milestone. The struggle now is to keep UNDROP in the framework as we head into COP15 for the final negotiations over the coming two weeks.
The recognition of UNDROP in the Global Biodiversity Framework would provide a pathway to ensure that smallholders are fully included in the decision-making processes of the CBD, something IPC has been advocating for since we started engaging with this Convention at COP14 in 2018. It would greatly strengthen the solidarity between what in the CBD are called ‘Indigenous Peoples and local communities’, as ‘local communities’ have never been clearly defined, and are not distinct rights holders, though the majority of those who are considered local communities are traditional small-scale food producers. A salient example is that most African smallholders are not formally recognised as indigenous, but are rights holders under UNDROP, and so would be provided greater visibility, recognition, and protection if UNDROP is acknowledged and supported in the new Global Biodiversity framework.
Notes from COP15: Day 1 (4 Dec)
We arrived in Montreal after a long four years of negotiations (many online at unfriendly hours for significant proportions of the global attendees) towards a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework ready for the final battles in the war against vested interests and the entrenched paradigms that believe humans are separate from Nature. Work on the Framework commenced in Sharm-al-Sheik in 2018, and Parties and official observers have subsequently met in Montreal, Rome, Geneva, Nairobi, and now finally back in Montreal (with an extra little ‘informal group’ meeting in Montreal in September this year, where a small number of Parties ‘streamlined’ the nightmarish bracketed text generated in Nairobi, to the consternation of many Parties who felt excluded from that process).
In the opening Plenary, Bolivia set a paradigm-busting tone, objecting to the Eurocentric and anthropocentric views in the text, which are opposed to a cosmocentric view that values Mother Earth intrinsically. He pointed out that ‘solutions based on nature’, which value only the economic aspect of nature and focus on payment for ecosystem services, are included in the draft, but non-Western, non-anthropocentric visions of the world are omitted. Bolivia has repeatedly called for the Framework to recognise the rights of Mother Earth, and to embrace a pluralist approach that acknowledges not only Western dualistic notions of the human/nature divide, but also the cosmologies of most of the world’s Indigenous Peoples and many peasants living a life in harmony with Nature already (well pre-dating the proposed vision of the GBF).
A debate arose around which text the Parties should debate over the course of the coming week. As mentioned above, after an official meeting of the working group (of which all Parties are members) in Nairobi in June 2022 resulted in a text with so many bracketed options from a seeming free-for-all nobody-concedes-anything scenario, a decision was made to convene an Informal Group (IG) to ‘streamline’ the text and bring it to Montreal. The IG was constituted with regional diversity and purportedly with a diversity of representative views, but as we heard on our first morning, many Parties did not feel the group reflected this in constitution nor in the resulting ‘streamlined’ text. The debate resulted in a decision to enter negotiations with the option to look at both the Nairobi and the IG versions of the text to ensure issues that were cut from the Nairobi text by the IG could be re-inserted by interested Parties.
After the morning plenary, we moved into Contact Groups for Parties to commence negotiating the text, and things went steadily downhill. Although the Parties have been debating the content of the framework that will guide the world’s efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss for over four years now, every session feels as though we have just begun. An hour spent on a paragraph, brackets removed and new ones inserted, and very lengthy debates on whether to call one of the introductory sessions the ‘principles’ or the ‘fundamental premises’ (the former has legal implications for accountability, whereas the latter is weak and meaningless), one could be forgiven for thinking there is a conspiracy to delay progress.
The most disheartening session on Day One was around a clause about the principles of safeguarding Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights when conserving biodiversity. Happily, the importance of supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has made it through several drafts, but we have to date failed to get the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) included in the text, even though alongside Indigenous brothers and sisters, small-scale food producers are the world’s best custodians of biodiversity, and this should be acknowledged and protected in the GBF.
What is COP15 – the UN Biodiversity Summit?
The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was a watershed moment for global recognition of the unfolding multiple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and desertification, leading to the establishment of three targeted UN Conventions that hold regular ‘Conferences of the Parties’, or COPs, to develop strategies, protocols, frameworks and other agreements to address these challenges. 30 years on, the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are coming together for COP15 in Montreal, after a more than two-year delay due to a global pandemic due in no small part to ongoing biodiversity loss, to agree to what some are hoping will be the ‘Paris Agreement for nature’ – the Global Biodiversity Framework.
As 196 Parties convene to conflictually/collectively determine their ambitions and commitments to global biodiversity, civil society and the private sector are here in our roles as observers who are granted opportunities to make ‘interventions’ into the discussions, including representatives of small-scale food producers, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, academics, NGOs, as well as global organisations representing Big Ag such as CropLife, the peak body for agri-chemical and biotech companies, and of course the usual suspects such as the World Bank.
Singing a familiar song, Appalachian man Tyson Yunkaporta argues that ‘Western countries give the state authority and the corporations power,’ and asserts that it is capitalism’s valuing of land as capital, rather than as the source of Law, that inherently leads to rampant ecological destruction such as that wrought by colonial industrial agriculture. The impact of capitalist economies on agriculture, as well as on ecosystem and public health risks, is deeply enmeshed with the role of the state in countries governed by neoliberal policies.
Food production and consumption epitomizes our interrelationship with nature. Instead of putting in place policies and instruments that will lock in more separation between humans and the more-than-human world, the GBF must promote positive interaction between agricultural practices in both managed and unmanaged ecosystems. This does not exclude conservation that recognizes rights. The need to integrate landscape level management inclusive of agricultural land – and the promotion of the role of agroecology in this endeavour – is critical to implement a coherent conservation approach.