A race to the top
G20 Summit

A race to the top

We currently spend more on destroying biodiversity than supporting it, but despite the challenges, there are numerous ways in which the G20 leaders at their New Delhi summit can help shift our trajectory

How serious is the pace of biodiversity loss and its impacts?

Very. It undermines all of nature’s contributions to people: clean water, disease control, genetic diversity that constitutes our crops and livestock, pollinators, natural enemies of pests and organisms in soil that are essential for fertility. Biodiversity loss, together with climate change and other crises, is an existential threat. Destroying forests or other upland vegetation, straightening rivers, draining wetlands and destroying mountain ecosystems disrupt water cycles, so upland areas are more subject to drought and downward areas are more subject to floods. We see the same with the loss of coastal ecosystems and the consequent risks to coastal communities from storms. An important part of adaptation and disaster risk reduction is protecting and restoring those ecosystems. 

The more we encroach onto pristine ecosystems, fragment ecosystems, interfere through wildlife trade and keep large concentrations of livestock in proximity to wildlife, the more we increase the risk of diseases. Many aspects of our health, our security, our livelihoods and even our lives depend on biodiversity and are affected by its loss.

What advances were made at the UN Biodiversity Conference in 2022?

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted. It has highly ambitious goals: First, by 2050, increase the integrity of all ecosystems, increase the area of ecosystems, reduce the extinction rate and risk by at least tenfold, and maintain genetic diversity. Second, maintain the benefits that biodiversity brings. Third, share the benefits from the use of genetic resources. And fourth, invest in biodiversity and its protection. These goals are backed by a very ambitious mission statement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and put it on the path to recovery – with 23 targets. We have the well-known ‘30 by 30 target’ to protect 30% of land and seas by 2030, by focusing on areas important for biodiversity or ecosystem services and ensuring they’re effectively managed, while recognising the role and rights of Indigenous peoples. Other targets include restoring or having under restoration 30% of degraded lands; halving the leakage of nutrients into the environment from fertilisers, sewage and waste; halving the risk from pesticides; and mobilising $30 billion in international financial flows from developed to developing countries as part of the bigger aim of $200 billion from all sources. 

There’s a strong focus on human rights, recognising the right to a clean, healthy, safe environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, and emphasising gender equality and intergenerational equity. 

We agreed on a resource mobilisation strategy and called on the Global Environment Facility to establish a new fund – which has already happened. We also reached an agreement on digital sequence information to establish a multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism from its use, including a global fund. 

It was challenging to get agreement because of vested interests and concerns about impacts on food security, but we’re very pleased to have these ambitious targets. It’s a triumph for multilateralism. 

However, the framework is only an agreement and must be translated into action. That’s hard.

What challenges lie ahead in implementing these outcomes? 

We cannot afford to rest! We must implement the targets now to achieve results by 2030. Countries must translate this global framework into national goals and targets, with ownership across the whole of government and whole of society. The big, urgent challenge is to do that this year or, at the latest, next year. Most countries are already developing national biodiversity action plans and strategies, which entail the policies and laws necessary for implementation. Japan has already updated its strategy and action plan. 

The European Union has agreed to negotiate a nature restoration act that will translate much of the framework into European law. And Brazil has relaunched its plan to prevent and control deforestation in the Amazon, aiming for zero deforestation. It will soon roll out similar plans in other biomes and has already been clamping down on deforestation and illegal mining by strengthening enforcement.

We want a race to the top so countries can be inspired by and learn from each other – highlighting what works and what’s possible. To do this we need funds. The Global Environmental Facility agreed on its largest ever work programme, including the largest ever for biodiversity, from its existing trust, and established a new fund as well. It also agreed to be the funding mechanism for the Treaty of the High Seas protecting biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. The Green Climate Fund’s most recent work programme also includes a major tranche to support ecosystem-based adaptation and mitigation.

How can G20 leaders at New Delhi help?

First, G20 leaders can give a strong signal, building on their environment ministers’ message from Chennai in July. They can call for the full, swift implementation of the framework and support its mechanisms and funding. Having the leaders forcefully say they will push for this is important – particularly from the biggest economies.

Second, they can mobilise finances. The G20 includes traditional donor countries, which need to indicate they’re serious about their promises, including that $30 billion by 2030 and the interim target of $20 billion by 2025. I’d like to see more transparency on the funding, to increase confidence that these commitments will be met.

Third, leaders can reinforce the need for the values of biodiversity to influence investment patterns. All financial flows need to be aligned with the framework’s goals and targets. Businesses and financial institutions can do a lot; however, signals from the major economies that these will become regulatory requirements will accelerate progress. We’ve had some important building blocks, through the International Sustainability Standards Board and the Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures – but these are voluntary. Indications that regulators are watching will help move all those financial flows. 

And fourth, the framework calls for reducing harmful subsidies by at least $500 billion a year. We currently spend more on destroying biodiversity than supporting it. This must stop if we have a meaningful chance of halting and reversing biodiversity loss.