Building capacity related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP MEAs 3)

FAO webinar lends support as SADC region prepares for CBD COP15

Biodiversity for food and agriculture is under threat, and the international community must act now to restore, protect and conserve it for present and future generations, participants heard at a webinar organized by FAO's ACP MEAs 3 programme on 25 November. 

The webinar was organized upon request by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to support its 16 member states in preparing for negotiations at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), which runs from 25 April-8 May 2022 in Kunming, China.

In particular, the webinar aimed to facilitate an exchange of views among SADC countries on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which is expected to be adopted at CBD COP15.

Protecting biodiversity "with and for, not from, local populations"

In his opening remarks, Sébastien Chatelus, a multilateral and European negotiations and policies expert in charge of the preparation of the CBD COP15 and the GBF at the European Commission's Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA) said that "biodiversity is increasingly a major target for EU external action to meet the SDGs and also to support a fair and green transition in partner countries."

"The EU and its member states today are already the main provider of biodiversity-related development aid. But clearly we need more ambition and more effective implementation at all levels," Chatelus said. 

"To that effect the President of the European Commission (Ursula von der Leyen) announced in September 2021 that the EU is ready to double external funding for biodiversity...especially for the most vulnerable countries," he explained. "The idea is that this will be part and parcel of a global deal around a transformative GBF that is more effectively implemented on the ground."

Chatelus went on to stress that "nature is the foundation for environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development. So a quick way to sum up how we see protection and conservation is that we don't protect from, but with and for local populations."

"It's very important that we share this message, because there is no way we can oppose social and economic development...and the livelihoods of local populations," Chatelus said.

Biodiversity loss is affecting livelihoods

In his keynote address, SADC Chair Lawrent Pungulani noted that "we are experiencing quite a loss of biodiversity, which is affecting the livelihoods of most populations in the region. This biodiversity includes microbes in the soil, plants and livestock."

He added that "it is a paradox to note that the modernisation of agriculture and the adoption of pro-industrial agricultural policies and practices which member states in the region put forward as a panacea to eradicate poverty and hunger are in fact the major culprits of biodiversity loss in agricultural landscapes."

Pungulani also noted that "this webinar is unique because it brings together the national focal points for several Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). I hope we will take advantage of this diversity and chart a new collaborative course for the future development and implementation of MEAs in the SADC region."

The GBF represents hope for transformative action

The webinar also highlighted the importance of the GBF to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in food and agriculture, and raised awareness on the linkages between the CBD and other biodiversity cluster MEAs and instruments.

These include the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the Commission for Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), the Global Soil Partnership, the Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Southern Africa, and the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Network, all of which will have a role to play in the implementation of the GBF.

FAO's Kent Nnadozie, Secretary of the ITPGRFA, said that "we have seen from the pandemic how vulnerable and interdependent we are."

"It is only by mutually and collectively taking action, bringing together the different sectoral approaches, that we can make progress and ensure that we conserve biodiversity, make sustainable use of it and also let future generations benefit from it, for humanity and for nature itself," he said.

 "I think that the ongoing negotiations on the GBF provide a unique opportunity to create this framework and an agenda for action...and we hope that we can have a very successful outcome at the next COP," Nnadozie said.

The CBD, the  CGRFA and how they work

Sakhile Silitshena Koketso, who serves as Head of Biodiversity at the Science, Policy and Governance Unit of the Science Division at the CBD Secretariat gave a presentation on the CBD and how it operates.

“The 196 parties to the CBD have an obligation to implement the decisions taken by the Conference of the Parties (COP), the Convention’s decision-making and governing body,” she explained.

These include "developing national strategies on biodiversity and taking measures to conserve it", she said.

Irene Hoffmann, Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at FAO, explained the synergies between the CGRFA and the CBD.

She pointed out that the CGRFA mirrors the objectives of the CBD on several points, including the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity for food and agriculture, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits of the use of its components.

"We have global plans of action on plant, animal, forest and aquatic genetic resources. These are usually welcomed by the CBD, which then invites its members to make use of them," she said.

Towards the vision 2050 on biodiversity: living in harmony with Nature

Francis Ogwal, one of the two Co-Chairpersons of the Open-Ended Working Group on the GBF, said that the Framework is an opportunity to take "transformative action" for the sake of the present and the future.

"We are saying that this is something that needs to bring all of us together for us to take action across society and at all levels," Ogwal said.

"This Framework has to be and is relevant to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For where there is loss of biodiversity you will see that action on the SDGs will be a challenge," he pointed out.

"Right now things are not good, and you all know this. And because of that the SDGs are...being undermined. But we see hope, in that we can actually implement this Framework," Ogwal said.

The GBF vision calls for humanity to be living in harmony with Nature by 2050, Ogwal explained.

"All that we are doing now should be taking us there," he said. "This is the foundation of survival for us as human beings on this Earth."

In addition, at least 700 billion USD must be deployed by 2030 to implement the Framework, Ogwal said.

"We heard about the discussions on climate change recently: pledges are made, pledges are not fulfilled. Is this what is going to befall us with the Framework? I think we should do better. We should have commitments," Ogwal added. 

Biodiversity above and below ground "cannot be separated"

FAO's Ronald Vargas, who serves as Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership, said that "biodiversity above and below ground is connected. We cannot separate them. If we just want to protect something that we can easily see above ground (and) if we don't have policies to conserve biodiversity below ground, we will face issues that we cannot imagine."

"If we want safe and healthy food that is free of pathogens, then we need to address soil biodiversity. We need to reduce the input of agrochemicals in our soils so that we can get better and healthier food," Vargas said.

He added that soil biodiversity is "rarely mentioned in the targets and indicators" of the GBF.

"If you leave soil biodiversity out of this Framework, you are leaving out 25% of global biodiversity. You will be separating two components that are naturally united," he said in reference to biodiversity above and below ground and urging member countries "to consider how soil biodiversity can be addressed in the activities that will be undertaken."

Africa and the GBF

Pierre du Plessis, who is the Technical Advisor to the African Group of Negotiators on Biodiversity and the Namibian negotiator at the CBD, presented some preliminary positions that have been discussed by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on the GBF. 

"The first and foremost of these is that we absolutely have to ensure that adequate resources are made available for the implementation of the Framework."

In relation to this he stated that "Africa has proposed that COP15 create a global benefit-sharing mechanism that would collect a 1% levy on retail sales of all biodiversity-related products."

He went on to say that "the GBF must include a solution for sharing the benefits that arise from using Digital Sequence Information (DSI) on genetic resources for food and agriculture."

The webinar was attended by 94 people from 14 SADC Member countries. More thematic regional capacity-building events will be organized under the ACP MEAs 3 programme in the ACP regions in preparation for CBD COP15 and beyond.