COP 15 | Negotiating the future of biodiversity: Q&A with Francis Ogwal and Basile van Havre

Co-chairs of the Open-Ended Working Group on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework Francis Ogwal and Basile van Havre discuss their experiences negotiating the formal text of the framework over the past three years, and their hopes for much-delayed UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15).
Published in Ecology & Evolution
COP 15 | Negotiating the future of biodiversity: Q&A with Francis Ogwal and Basile van Havre
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Could you briefly outline the aims of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework?

The Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) for the development of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is a party-led approach to develop new decadal biodiversity goals and targets under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD) in a transparent and inclusive way. This approach and its principles are outlined here: CBD/COP/DEC/14/34.

The OEWG is led by two Co-chairs, Basile van Havre (Canada) and Francis Ogwal (Uganda). The Group actually includes all Parties to the Convention and is open to other stakeholders, such as Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), Environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), subnational governments and business representatives. Since 2019, the group has met four times in-person to negotiate the Framework, and each time Parties and stakeholders participated fully in the process. However, for the purpose of effective negotiations and due to COVID restrictions it is true that there are some limitations to the number of stakeholders allowed in the room during plenary sessions and even more so during contact groups.

As such, of the 196 Parties to the CBD, all that travel to our in-person meetings participate in the negotiations. These negotiators generally are part of national delegations and come from Foreign Affairs or Environment Ministries.

 

The UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 was originally due to be held in October 2020, but has been delayed a number of times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How disruptive has this been for the working group, and have there any unintended benefits to the delay?

Indeed, the UN CBD COP 15 has been delayed a number times due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, which was originally scheduled for October 2020, but will finally take place in December 2022. There have been advantages and disadvantages to these delays. Of course, this has given us more time to negotiate, more time to understand the issues and more time to make sure the Framework is strongly grounded in science but also carried out as much consultation as possible with Parties and stakeholders.

On the other hand, the delays have had negative impacts on the negotiations process because over the 2 years of no in-person meetings there was some turnover in terms of negotiators, and once we met in March 2022 in Geneva it took us considerable time to get back on track. The relationship-building aspect of in-person meetings plays an important role in the advancement of our work and this wasn’t well maintained while we worked online.

Also, while we’ve had more time to perfect the Framework, these extra years have perhaps at times allowed Parties to lose focus on the key issues. It has also detracted us from putting forward actions to address the urgent crisis of biodiversity loss, which only gets worse every year. Having said that, Parties have been encouraged to continue to make progress on implementing the previous decadal Framework, the Aichi targets, and as such the time wasn’t wasted.

 

To what extent would you say the pandemic has influenced the discussions of the working group?

The pandemic has definitely had an impact. For instance, there has been more pressure from some Parties to include a standalone target on health. Other impacts relate to the increased understanding of the value of green and blue spaces (e.g. parks) in urban settings, not only for biodiversity but also for human health (target 12 on blue and green spaces is part of a group of targets on meeting people’s needs).

Another unintended consequence of external factors, not entirely related to the pandemic but also to other recent global events, is a shift in government priorities and spending. Governments across the world are currently finding themselves in precarious economic situations with historic debts and inflation rates, also some have turned their attention to the conflict in Eastern Europe. This has reduced the visibility of our work on the Framework, which we work hard to combat through various engagements with Ministers in the lead up to COP 15.

However, we are not in the same world we were in 2 years ago. For the Framework to be implemented successfully, there will be a need for massive efforts to increase financial resources from all sources, public and private, of biodiversity-positive investments and spending, and to provide strong support to developing countries, whose primary occupation is understandably poverty eradication. As such, financial commitments made in the weeks leading up to and during COP 15 will be of crucial importance.

 

The first draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework was released in July 2021. How much do you expect the latest draft, or even final version, to differ?

 From what we’ve seen based on the last two rounds of negotiations held in March 2022 in Geneva and in June 2022 in Nairobi is that there is general agreement on the focus of the goals and targets of the First Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, so we don’t expect that to shift significantly by the time the framework is adopted. What is likely going to change is the terminology, the numerical elements and the details in each target. As an example, target 7 has a focus on pollution. We’ve seen Parties add various types of pollution to the text of the target, which has made the text long and difficult to communicate (see Geneva draft). We hope that the adopted Framework will have simpler and communicable text, with a focus on the three priority types of pollution identified by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in their Global Assessment, while other types of pollution may be captured in the Monitoring Framework, an essential part to the GBF.

We shouldn’t forget that this is a Framework for all and our ability to communicate what we want to do and to be understood by all actors and entities will be important for its successful implementation. In September 2022, a small groups of delegates met in Montreal precisely with the purpose of streamlining the text (but not to negotiate, which can only be done by the OEWG), which contained hundreds of brackets and was significantly longer than the First draft, following the negotiations in Geneva in Nairobi, earlier this year. The Informal group prepared a draft GBF (https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/aa0c/3d23/795b0885b1aeec517eee0cfa/post2020-om-2022-01-02-en.pdf) that we hope can be used in whole as the basis of negotiations, during the OEWG-5 in Montreal in early December 2022.

 

What were some of the most complex or controversial aspects of the framework negotiations discussed by the working group?

Probably the three most complex and controversial aspects have been resource mobilisation, the 30x30 protected area target, and Digital Sequence Information on genetic resources (DSI). Resource mobilisation because there is a huge financial gap in supporting the efforts to address biodiversity loss; we don’t know the exact number, but estimates show that the gap may be of about $700B per year, while Official Development Assistance (ODA) for biodiversity (only one element of the equation) is currently estimated at $10B per year. There is an immense pressure for developed countries to increase their contributions, and while many have pledged to do so, it is also not realistic to expect that ODA will ever be enough to close the gap, the burden is too large. Instead, the Framework proposes that the elimination of harmful incentives and the alignment of all financials flows can help us close the gap. While understanding for this notion has increased, there remains some disagreement among Parties.

On the proposal to protect and conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, there has also been divergence. While many Parties are very supportive, others are cautious, either because they don’t think it is a realistic target at the national level given their national circumstances and because of the uncertainty around the financial resources that will be available to support the implementation of the Framework. An added consideration related to the strong focus of many for the 30x30 is that its implementation alone will not halt and reverse biodiversity loss. We continue to advocate for addressing all direct drivers of biodiversity loss, as identified by the IPBES Global Assessment, as the only effective approach that will lead to putting biodiversity on a path to recovery.

The issue of Digital Sequence Information on genetic resources (DSI) relates to the way data can be accessed and how benefit associated with commercial use of this data can be shared. There is both a desire to ensure that DSI data is available for scientific purpose (e.g. for vaccine development), as well as a desire to ensure that any benefits arising from the commercial use of DSI are shared. While there is an increasing consensus around those principles, Parties still need to determine the modalities and reach a consensus on a global solution to DSI. This is a related but crucial issue to the adoption of the Framework, as a number of Parties have expressed their resolve that a GBF will only be adopted in parallel with a solution to DSI.

 

The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is set to be a landmark strategy for safeguarding the natural world in the coming decades. On a personal level as co-chairs of the working group, how does it make you feel about being tasked with developing such an important document?

On a personal level, it makes us feel very proud to be leading this important work, but we have to admit that it has been a heavy load that we’ve carried with us for longer than we expected, due to the delays caused by COVID. However, we have both dedicated our lives to biodiversity conservation and we are both fathers to children, who will be impacted by the consequences of biodiversity loss, which will be major from a socio-economic standpoint if we do not reverse the current trend, this gives us strength to continue pushing forward.

Finally, we are both very honoured to be in the leadership position, but also to be working with many others, who are doing an incredible job behind the scenes, and have demonstrated their dedication to the cause time and time again. It has been a rewarding journey and it has been a team effort, by all Parties to the Convention and by all stakeholders. We are grateful to have made a contribution to this work which is for the wellbeing of the planet and people.

 

Visit our SDG15 hub for selected research content and more discussions around Life on Land.

 

About the authors 

Francis Ogwal has more than 26 years’ experience in biodiversity and environment management, 16 years of which have been served at an international level on biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). He has been the CBD National Focal Point for Uganda since 2005 and in 2010 was among experts that were selected to provide technical input on the development of the current Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. He served as Vice President in COP Bureau from 2012-2014 and between 2012-2016 was a co-chair for resources mobilization and financial mechanism. In 2016, he was elected by the Conference of the Parties as the first Chair of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI). To-date he has attended and participated in seven meetings of COP, seven meetings of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (COPMOP) to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and three meetings of COPMOP to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing. In May 2019, he received a Presidential Award from H.E the President of the Republic of Uganda, in recognition of his contribution to advancing the course for biodiversity in Uganda.

Basile van Havre has over 27 years of experience working in Canada’s Environment Department. In addition to being Canada’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) focal point, his roles included Director General of Biodiversity and Partnerships and Director of Population Conservation and Management at the Canadian Wildlife Service, Chair of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Elephant working group and CBD Discussions on Indigenous Knowledge and Repatriation, Co-Chair of the International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality Board, and Director at the Meteorological Service of Canada.

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