2015: The Year Biodiversity And Sustainable Development Finally Tie The Knot?

Kelli Barrett

Decision-makers in the biodiversity space are positioning conservation to take center stage during the upcoming negotiations on the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Late last year, they presented the UN Secretary with key decisions regarding integrating biodiversity into sustainable development that were made during the most recent biodiversity talks.

8 January 2015 | The 12th Conference of the Parties (COP 12) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) didn’t grab the global headlines of the year-end climate talks in Lima (COP 20), and it didn’t even generate the excitement of the early CBD COP 10, where Parties agreed on the Aichi Targets, or of the 2008 talks, when Parties agreed to integrate climate change into the workings of the CBD.

COP 12, however, moved the biodiversity ball forward in ways that are just as impressive as those ground-breakers, because parties actually started doing what they said they’d do, and took concrete steps towards integrating their objectives into existing initiatives.

“There weren’t a lot of new decisions at COP 12, because it was about implementation,” says Sebastian Winkler, a Senior Policy Advisor in Forest Trends’ Biodiversity Initiative. “It was about taking stock on where are we on the Aichi Targets and the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs).”

The Sustainable Development Link

In 2015, attention will likely focus on efforts to integrate biodiversity targets into the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The goals were part of the outcome document from the Rio+20 Summit and are expected to become part of the United Nations (UN) overarching development agenda beyond 2015. There are currently 17 objectives, and the first is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”, with other goals focusing on resilient infrastructure, gender empowerment and sustainable use of natural resources.

“Biodiversity and ecosystems should be integrated and mainstreamed into the UN post 2015 sustainable development agenda,” says Susan Brown, Director of Global and Regional Policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “This was a very clear message at COP12. CBD cannot achieve the Aichi targets in isolation. All sectors have to be involved.”

United We Stand?

Evidence of just how clear a message it was at COP 12 can be found in the Gangwon Declaration. The high level statement, calling for this integration to take place, was signed unanimously by world governments.

In December, the Gangwon Declaration and other key COP 12 decisions regarding sustainable development were presented to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to illustrate international support for biodiversity. The timing couldn’t be better. A new round of negotiations over the SDGs is beginning this month, with biodiversity conservation already a key theme. In the previous session, biodiversity was also featured prominently.

“If you look at the Aichi Targets and compare them with the SDGs, they line up fairly well,” says Andrew Deutz, Director of International Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy. The focus of Goal 15, for example, encompasses sustainable management of ecosystems and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss.

Although integrating biodiversity means much more than one goal highlighting what the Aichi Targets are attempting to achieve. “There are indicators within the SDG on food security that mention sustainable agriculture,” says Deutz. “Another Goal that deals with water discusses restoring freshwater ecosystems and managing water resources with integrated approaches.”

Similar to what Brown said about COP 12, Deutz says one of the most important notions to come out of the SDG panel was that the environment is not a stand-alone pillar. “Environment and natural resource management need to be integrated across the full spectrum of other goals,” he says. So success looks like achievements that conserve the environment while also ensuring food security.

A Weak Spot

Deutz does mention, however, that the SDGs are weak on one crucial element: natural capital accounting. While there is language under Goal 15, it’s unclear making it somewhat ineffective. The concept of going beyond GDP (gross domestic product) and integrating ecosystem services into national accounts is fairly revolutionary, Deutz says. “If we could get that right, it would probably be one of the most fundamentally significant shifts we could make through the SDG process to ensure environmental sustainability.”

Wait and See

How likely is it that we will get it right? Unfortunately, that’s still very much an open question. Going back to COP 12, Winkler observed very little discussion on natural capital accounting, although saying it remains on the global agenda.

What Deutz thinks will ultimately happen is the text on natural capital accounting in the SDGs will remain as is. The concept is wonky with a variety of methodologies in action, Dutz says. It’s difficult to generate mainstream support for such a complex process. However, Deutz did add that unscrambling complicated but critically important issues is the supreme point of the SDGs.

It remains an open question. The final outcome of the SDGs and how effective they will be on conserving biodiversity remains an open question as well, although it’s clear they are on the right track. Integrating biodiversity into mainstream development goals is also the clear intention of CBD’s Executive Secretary Braulio F. de Souza Dias, another encouraging sign.

Ongoing Innovation

But as the discussion over the SDGs carry on, so do innovative developments. And COP 12 did unveil progress on a few truly innovative initiatives attempting to make a difference in the finance space. The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN), administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is one. BIOFIN seeks to determine nations’ needs and gaps for biodiversity conservation using bottom-up analysis that will provide a clearer picture on finance requirements than what the global estimates are showing. The belief behind this comprehensive approach is that it will ultimately lead to increased investment in biodiversity conservation.

The project is using a new methodological framework. One tier of this framework will create the bottom-up assessments while another will analyze the integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into development policy, planning and budgeting at a national level. As of May of this year, 19 countries are piloting the BIOFIN methodology.

Innovative initiatives such as BIOFIN will likely play a role as future plans for biodiversity conservation unfolds alongside the outcome of the SDGs.

Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and editorial assistant at Ecosystem Marketplace. She can be reached at [email protected].

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