The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held the 23rd meeting of its Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-23) in Montreal, Canada, at the end of November 2019. A report has been published in Environmental Policy and Law (Vol.49, Iss.6) that briefly summarises the primary outcomes. Here below are some extracts of the full report.
Although its agenda identified several items of discussion, all of them either involved or addressed matters reflected in the document that appears to have been SBSTTA-23’s main focus: the CBD’s contributions to the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (post-2020 GBF). Among these it considered the scientific and technical base of the post-2020 GBF, its 2030 mission and targets, and the linkage between biodiversity and climate change, technical and scientific cooperation, and sustainable wildlife management. Ultimately, it made seven formal recommendations to the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP), which will meet in Kunming, China, in October 2020.
The relatively small number of recommendations reflects the success of the long process of restructuring the Convention’s operations. It arises from a goal of maximising the ability of all delegations to participate in the contact groups, side discussions and other formal and informal methods of addressing SBSTTA agenda items. As a result of this concern, SBSTTA meets twice between each COP meeting, with each meeting focused on a strategically developed agenda.
As the CBD’s body for technical and technological advice, SBSTTA’s direct work on the post-2020 GBF focused on the need to ensure that it is built on a solid scientific and technical base. The meeting also adopted some recommendations regarding potential elements of the framework. The specific discussions relating to the scientific/technical base of the post-2020 GBF appear to have been relatively general, with concerns expressed about which year shall be considered the baseline for the framework (meeting documents posited 1970) and the importance of identifying targets and indicators. Discussions also included relatively strong statements about accepting and working with the IPBES materials that had been or were then being prepared.
Biodiversity and Climate Change
After predictably detailed and lengthy discussions, SBSTTA-23 adopted a resolution that came very close to reiteration of previous resolutions on this topic, welcoming the work of other bodies, encouraging cooperation at international and national levels, urging “ecosystem-based approaches to climate change” and including a mention of the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities. The decision reflects a tacit consensus going back many years, to the effect that the CBD and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) each are directed at very specific areas of expertise and that, while they should coordinate so that each can achieve their respective mandates without negative impact on the other, neither should specifically address matters that are within the purview of the other. In other words, the CBD should not be a venue of second choice for proponents to present points that the UNFCCC did not approve, and vice versa. That said, the climate-change discussions in CBD forums continue to bear a strong resemblance to the kind of detailed word-smithing one sees in the UNFCCC processes. For example, the discussion of SBSTTA-23’s proposed recommendation included detailed arguments over the use of the term “ecosystem-based approaches” vis-à-vis “nature-based solutions”.
Ultimately, SBSTTA agreed that “nature-based solutions are an essential component of ecosystem-based approaches”, adding the words “with biodiversity safeguards” after “solutions”. Another discussion focused on the addition of language expressing “deep concern about the increasing impact of climate change, exacerbating biodiversity loss and weakening the delivery of crucial ecosystem services and functions”.
A suggestion to replace “biodiversity and climate change” with “biodiversity loss and climate change” met with similar discussion and was not approved. Such discussions focused on suggestions to remove language referring to required “socio-economic, cultural, and political changes”; to add language on the industry and energy sectors; to remove reference to the “destruction of natural ecosystems”; to mention intensive bioenergy plantations as “one example of unfavorable trade-offs”; to add the “large-scale deployment of subsidies to agriculture” as another harmful example; to include references to “irreplaceable ecosystems” (also called “vulnerable communities” and “communities that particularly depend on biodiversity”); and to delete a reference to the transition to renewable energy. Other discussions considered the needs for new “guidance to address threats to vulnerable ecosystems” and more generally for capacity building.