Story | 31 Jul, 2020

The Slow but Steady Progress in the Implementation of the Biodiversity Agenda

By Braulio F. S. Dias - Despite the contrary perception of many, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been quite successful in promoting and leading the development and implementation of the global biodiversity agenda, though not yet at the scale and speed needed to reverse the ongoing crisis and decline of biodiversity.

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The CBD has been successfully liaising with the other global biodiversity conventions and treaties (CITES, CMS, IPPC, IWC, Plant Treaty, Ramsar and World Heritage), major relevant UN Organizations (FAO, ITTO, OIE, UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, UNCTAD and WHO), and other relevant international organizations (such as CAFF, GEF, IUCN, Word Bank and UNFF), and has successfully adopted an ambitious Global Strategy for Biodiversity for 2011-2020 (and also a Global Strategy for Biosafety for 2011-2020) which has been embraced by all biodiversity-related conventions and by the whole of the UN through the UNGA Resolution that declared  2011-2020 as the UN Decade on Biodiversity, as well as by major conservation organizations around the world.

As of 2020, CBD has 196 parties and all UN member states, with the exception of the United States, have ratified the treaty. CBD Parties have adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (now with 170 members) and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing (now with 126 members). Additionally, parties have a consolidated subsidiary science body (SBSTTA), a fledging subsidiary body on implementation (SBI), and a permanent Open-ended Working Group on Traditional Knowledge, a growing Global Platform on Business and Biodiversity (currently engaging around 60 countries). Parties have adopted a successful Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), an equally successful Work Program on Protected Areas, an improving Strategic Plan for Sustainable Wildlife Management, a Plan of Action on Customary Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, and several guidelines, directives and safeguards to protect traditional knowledge.

The CBD has also been successfully collaborating with UN organizations to support the mainstreaming of biodiversity and its implementation, as exemplified by the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Multi-stakeholder Dialogue on Biodiversity Mainstreaming across Agriculture Sectors, the Sustainable Oceans Initiative Global Dialogue with Regional Seas Organizations and Regional Fisheries Bodies (supported by the Republic of Korea), the UN One Heath Initiative, the UNCTAD BioTrade Initiative and the UNDP Biodiversity Finance Initiative. Additionally, two key decisions urging countries to promote the mainstreaming of biodiversity were adopted by CBD Parties in the last two COPs, one for the agriculture, livestock, aquaculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism sectors (Decision XIII/3 in 2016) and another for the energy, mining, infrastructure and industry sectors (Decision XIV/3 in 2018).

However, most countries still lack effective cross-sectoral dialogue and coordination mechanisms, with prevailing sectoral policies and agencies still working in silos, often with conflicting and competing policies and without benefiting from potential synergies (this is a major impediment for the mainstreaming biodiversity and for implementation of NBSAPs and the SDGs). Some examples of mainstreaming biodiversity across public policies in different countries are: 1) US Presidential Directives under President Obama directing all Federal agencies to promote climate change adaptation and pollinators conservation (dismissed by President Trump); 2) Brazil Presidential Decree established by President Lula directing a dozen ministries and agencies to use their budget and policy tools to promote the reduction of the rate of deforestation in the Amazon Region (dismissed by President Bolsonaro); 3) South Africa’s Working for Water Program aiming to increase water availability in the order of 10% through restoration of degraded ecosystems by removing invasive alien plant species with the hiring and training of unemployed poor people in the slums in the periphery of cities; 4) China’s Biodiversity Conservation Red Line Policy established initially to restore ecosystem services to buffer against impact of large floods; and 5) Forest Conservation and Restoration became a national priority in Panama as leaders have realized that the ecosystem service of water provision is critical for the operation of the expanded Panama Canal (to replenish the freshwater that is lost with every ship transposing the Gatun locks to overcome the different heights of the waterway segments).

The First Strategic Plan was adopted by CBD in 2002 at COP 6 in the Hague, but detailed targets were not adopted until COP 7 in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. Only 76 Parties had NBSAPs by 2000, increasing to 132 Parties with NBSAPs adopted by 2010.  The implementation of this Strategic Plan was seen as a failure in 2010 (see assessment in the third Global Biodiversity Outlook report - GBO3). The accepted reasons for this failure were the short time for implementation, the funding limitations, the failure to tackle the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, and the underestimation of benefits biodiversity provides for human well-being (findings of a technical workshop held in Cambridge, UK).

The Global Strategy on Biodiversity for 2011 to 2020 adopted in 2010 at CBD COP 10 in Nagoya established five broad objectives and 20 Global Biodiversity Targets, known as the Aichi Targets. The CBD has succeeded in incentivizing the establishment of NBSAPs in all but four countries, all in the Mediterranean basin (Cyprus, Libya, Monaco and Palestine), and three-fourths of Parties adopted updated NBSAPs after 2010 and adopted national biodiversity targets aligned with the Aichi Targets.  According to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.1, as of 16 March 2020, 170 Parties submitted their NBSAPs, of which 149 were updated NBSAPs, 20 Parties informed their NBSAPs were being concluded or were concluded but pending approval. The timelines of the NBSAPs submitted to date also vary: 7 NBSAPs cover periods between 2015 and 2018, 82 cover periods up to 2020 and 64 others cover periods up to 2030 and fourteen NBSAPs do not specify a timeline.

The text of Aichi Biodiversity Target 17 as well as the text of decision X/2 request that Parties adopt their revised NBSAPs as a policy instrument. The intent is to enable NBSAPs to become “whole-of-government” policies, thus facilitating the mainstreaming of biodiversity into all sectors of government and decision-making. According to CBD Secretariat document on “Update On Progress In Revising/Updating and Implementing NBSAPs” (CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.1), 69 Parties informed their NBSAPs were adopted as “whole-of-government” policies by a variety of authorities, including royalty, cabinets and councils of ministers, and 18 other countries have stated their intent to have their NBSAP adopted as a policy instrument. On the other hand, 8 Parties have kept this adoption strictly in the realm of the environmental sector and the remaining 72 NBSAPs did not provide sufficient information to know if they have been adopted as a policy instrument or, if they have been, what type of instrument they are. Importantly 25 NBSAPs specifically contain a national resource mobilization strategy or equivalent, 38 NBSAPs contain a CEPA strategy and action plan or equivalent and another 101 NBSAPs contain initiatives relating to communication, education and public awareness, 20 NBSAPs include a national capacity development plan, 47 Parties state that biodiversity has been integrated into their national development plan or equivalent instrument and 26 Parties mention an integration of their NBSAP with their sustainable development plans or equivalent instruments. Additionally, 10 Parties mention that their country either already has subnational biodiversity plans or has started developing them, and the Secretariat is aware of 19 Parties (including 6 mentioned above) that have at least one subnational biodiversity action plan.

According to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.1, most Parties reported the involvement of a range of stakeholders in the NBSAP revision process. However, few insights are provided on the quality of this involvement or the implications for the implementation of the NSBAP. The government ministries that were most commonly involved were: Agriculture, Fisheries, Development/Planning, Forestry, Tourism, Education, Finance, Trade and Industry and Infrastructure/Transport; and other ministries involved included: Culture, Science and Technology, Economy, Health, Sports and Social Affairs. Parties also reported on the involvement of non-governmental stakeholders in the revision process: these include indigenous and local communities (reported in 40 NBSAPs), NGOs/civil society (reported in 100 NBSAPs), private sector (reported in 51 NBSAPs) and academia (reported in 70 NBSAPs). Of the 167 NBSAPs reviewed, 97 record having a formal coordination structure, or a working group for NBSAP-related tasks, composed of different stakeholders.

Regarding the Aichi Targets some are outcome targets and others are process targets, but few are SMART targets. Most Aichi targets convey broad and vague desired outcomes and few include detailed implementation elements as in Aichi Target 11. With the help of the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP) indicators were developed and agreed on for most targets. The CBD Parties recognize the nature of the Strategic Plan as a flexible global framework which allowed Parties to adapt to national circumstances and priorities. CBD Parties agreed to revise or update existing NBSAPs to align them to the new Strategic Plan, its goals and targets. Importantly, the Strategic Plan recognized the value of implementation measures but did not detail them.

This framework benefited from the Resources Mobilization Strategy adopted in Bonn in 2008 at COP 8 (the key negotiators were Brazil, China and the EU). Provisional Resource Mobilization targets were adopted at COP 11 in Hyderabad and final targets (doubling) were adopted at COP 12 in Pyeongchang, including targets for domestic resource mobilization. I was frustrated as ES of the CBD with the small increase in resources mobilized in the GEF replenishments afterwards (which reached a ceiling). Additional resource mobilization were made available with support from Germany (IKI and GIZ), Japan (JBF, JICA and Satoyama Initiative), Republic of Korea (FERI and BioBridge initiatives), Norway (Amazon Fund in Brazil) and the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (Biofin) of UNDP (funded by EC, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Flanders/Belgium).

The CBD has five implementation review mechanisms (see COP Decision X/2 on review process): 1) Self-assessment of Effectiveness of measures taken as part of National Reports (CBD Article 26); 2) Assessment of Effectiveness of types of measures used by Parties as one of SBSTTA’s mandate (CBD Article 25); 3) NBSAP Forum established by the CBD Secretariat, UNDP, UNEP and GEF; 4) Assessments conducted by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation created in 2012 (Decision XII/26); and 5) Voluntary Peer-review process of NBSAPs Review and Implementation developed since 2012 (Decision XIV/29). However, the CBD lacks a strong review mechanism such as the ones under OECD and the UNFCCC for developed countries, and  the CDB lacks a regular review mechanism similar to the one adopted under the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC to encourage Parties to upgrade the level of ambition of their National Targets to reduce the collective mismatch with the agreed global targets.

A preliminary assessment of the implementation of the Aichi Targets conducted by the CBD Secretariat was launched in 2014 in time for CBD COP 12 in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea based on the relevant scientific literature, reports from UN organizations and on the self-assessment information provided by only some 60 Parties which submitted their 5th National Reports in-time for use in the elaboration of GBO4 (see assessment in the fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook report – GBO4) . The two main findings of this report were that most CBD Parties were making significant efforts to implement their national targets and that such efforts were insufficient to meet their national targets by 2020 and to contribute to the full implementation of the Aichi Targets by the end of the decade. According to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.1 the CBD Secretariat has compiled a database of all “targets” presented in NBSAPs, fifth and sixth national reports or separate documents submitted since the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties. As of 16 March 2020, the database contains 4,107 separate “targets”. To date, 99 Parties have mapped their national targets to the global targets. Further analysis of national targets is provided in the updated analysis of the contribution of targets established by Parties and progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.2).

The targets and similar commitments in each NBSAP were classified into one of six categories: (a) National target surpasses the scope and/or level of ambition of the Aichi Target; (b) National target is commensurate with the Aichi Target; (c) National target is less ambitious than the Aichi Target or does not address all of its elements; (d) National target is significantly less ambitious than the Aichi Target; (e) National target is not clearly linked to the Aichi Target; (f) No national target clearly linked to the Aichi Target. According to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.2 the majority of NBSAPs considered in this assessment contain targets related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. However, for some Aichi Targets, such as Targets 3, 6, 10 and 14, there were many NBSAPs without associated national targets or commitments. Aichi Biodiversity Targets 1, 9, 16, 17, 19 and 20 were the Aichi Targets with the greatest number of similar national targets. However, even in these cases, the number of NBSAPs with targets having or exceeding the scope and level of ambition of an Aichi Targets was on average just over a fifth (22%). Overall, the majority of national targets and/or commitments contained in the NBSAPs were of lower scope than the Aichi Targets or did not address all of the elements of the Aichi Target. Generally, the national targets that have been set to date are more general than the Aichi Targets. Many Parties have set targets which refer to multiple Aichi Targets.

According to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.2 a total of 156 sixth national reports were reviewed in this analysis bearing in mind that the guidelines for the sixth national reports requested Parties to assess progress towards the attainment of their national targets using five categories used in this assessment, consistent with those used in the sixth national report guidelines, the fourth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook and earlier assessments of the fifth national reports: (a) On track to exceed target; (b) On track to achieve target; (c) Progress towards target but at an insufficient rate; (d) No significant change (no significant progress); (e) Moving away from target. The information in the national reports, according to CBD Secretariat document CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.2, suggests that on average more than a third of all national targets are on track to be met or exceeded (only 3%). However, of the reporting Parties, on average, only a tenth of the national target that are similar to an Aichi Biodiversity Target are on track to be met. On average for about half of the national targets progress is being made but not at a rate that will allow them to be met. Further, on average, about a tenth of national targets have no significant progress or are moving in the wrong direction (only 1%). Most progress appears to have been made towards the national targets related to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 1, 11, 16, 17 and 19. By comparison, much less progress appears to have been made towards the national targets related to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 20. A comprehensive and updated assessment of the implementation of all these national biodiversity targets and their contribution to the global Aichi Targets will be launched in September 2020 as part of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report in time for the Biodiversity Summit of the UN General Assembly in September of 2020.

From my perspective, as expected, the Aichi Targets with the best performance are those which are mostly under mandate of Environment Ministries and Aichi Targets far from being achieved by 2020 are mostly under mandate of other ministries. The reasons for this insufficient implementation are: 1) There is an insufficient level of implementation of National Targets and contribution to the Global Aichi Targets in most countries; 2) There is lack or insufficiency of mainstreaming of biodiversity in the social and economic sectors (there is a lack of enabling public policies and commitment of sectoral ministries and the business sectors); and 3) There is a lack of engagement of heads-of-states in the CBD Framework negotiation and implementation, as happens in the UNFCCC. This result should not be taken as a failure of the global community to respond the challenges of the global biodiversity agenda but given the worrying results of the first ever Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services launched by IPBES in Paris in May 2019 it clearly indicates we all have to significantly increase our efforts to properly and effectively address the challenges and opportunities of the biodiversity crisis.

I have reviewed the updated NBSAPs and 6th National Reports of all the countries of the Amazon Region and can attest to the significant efforts made by all these countries to implement their commitments with the CBD. The 6th National Report of Brazil, in particular provides very detailed information on the efforts taken to implement all the 20 Aichi Targets and their equivalent National Biodiversity Targets and, significantly, the report concluded that half of all these targets were on track by the end of 2018 to be fully met by the end of the decade: 1 (awareness), 5 (reduce deforestation), 7 (sustainable agriculture and forestry), 10 (protect ecosystems vulnerable to climate change), 11 (protected areas), 13 (protection of genetic resources), 16 (NBSAP), 17 (ratification of the Nagoya Protocol), 18 (protection of traditional knowledge) and 19 (production of science). Unfortunately, the policies of the current Brazilian Government are mostly working against the achievement of the Aichi Targets.

In December 2018 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, CBD COP14 approved the rules for a broad consultation process and for the establishment of an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) led by Party members to negotiate a new ambitious and transformative Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Agenda. On 13 January 2020 the OEWG co-chairs issued the so called Zero Draft of the new framework which had a first round of negotiations in the last week of February in Rome at FAO headquarters. The Zero Draft proposes a 30 years agenda “to bend the curve of biodiversity loss” and “achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity”. The 2050 vision of the Framework is a world of living in harmony with nature where: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.” The 2030 Mission proposed in the Zero Draft for this framework is: “To take urgent action across society to put biodiversity on a path to recovery for the benefit of planet and people”. The proposed Framework has five long-term goals for 2050 related to the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Each of these goals has an associated outcome goal and action target for 2030.

What is at risk if we fail to adopt and implement a new ambitious agenda? We face the risk of losing millions of species in the coming decades, face the risk of reaching regional and global tipping points of ecosystem degradation and reduction in ecosystem services provision that will take us beyond the Planetary Boundaries of environmental sustainability. This loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services will threaten our food and nutrition security, will limit our capacity to adapt to climate change and to develop our bioeconomy potentials and will put in danger our health and well-being, facing the risk of increased diseases outbreaks and pandemics (such as the current Covid-19 pandemic), economics collapses, and increased poverty and famines. Let’s hope world and national leaders will support the adoption of an ambitious new Global Strategy for Biodiversity post-2020 at COP 15 in Kunming, China, next year, and avoid the above risks. Importantly, we are starting to witness a significant change of attitude of global and national leaders in the finance and business sectors to reject support for economic activities which significantly contribute to deforestation, ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and green-house gas emission and to commit to sustainable development with biodiversity conservation and restoration and to a green economic recovery from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic – if this new trend is consolidated I am optimistic that finally we might have large scale mainstreaming of biodiversity in public policies and in the economy!   

Relevant references

Bacon, Elizabeth, Patrick Gannon, Sarah Stephen, Edjigayehu Seyoum-Edjigu, Megan Schmidt, Barbara Lang, Trevor Sandwith, Jing Xin,  Sujata Arora, Khairul Naim Adham, Andrew John Rhodes Espinoza, Ana Paula Leite Prates, Malta Qwathekana, Jamison Ervin, Alexander Shestakov, David Cooper, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Bruno Leles, Marc Attallah, Jo Mulongoy& Sarat Babu Gidda, 2019. Progress and potential of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries towards achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11. Journal for Nature Conservation 51: 12p. 125723.

Bolam, F.C., L. Mair, M. Angelico, T.M. Brooks, M. Burgman, C. Hermes, M. Hoffmann, R.W. Martin, P.J.K. McGowan, A.S.L. Rodrigues, C. Rondinini, H. Wheatley, Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. Calzada, M.F. Child, P.A. Cranswick, C.R. Dickman, B. Fess, D.O. Fisher, S.T. Garnett, J.J. Groombridge, C.N. Johnson, R.J. Kennerley, S.R.B. King, J.F. Lamoreux, A.C. Lees, L. Lens, S.P. Mahood, D.P. Mallon, E. Meijaard, F. Méndez-Sánchez, A.R. Percequillo, T.J. Regan, L.M. Renjifo, M.C. Rivers, N.S. Roach, L. Roxburgh, R.J. Safford, P. Salaman, T. Squires, E. Vázquez-Domínguez, P. Visconti, J.R.S. Westrip, J.C.Z. Woinarski, R.P. Young & S.H.M. Butchart, 2020. How many bird and mammal extinctions has recent conservation action prevented? bioRxiv preprint doi:

CBD Secretariat, 2020. Update on progress in revising/updating and implementing National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, Including National Targets. Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.1). 19p.

CBD Secretariat, 2020. Analysis of the contribution of Targets established by Parties and progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Montreal: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD/SBI/3/2/Add.2), 21p.

Dias, Braulio Ferreira de Souza, 2019. Biodiversity: A unique property of Planet Earh/Biodiversidade: uma propriedade única do Planeta Terra, pp.164-177 In: Klabin, Israel (organizador editor), 25+25 Sustainability: the state of the art/25+25 Sustentabilidade: o estado da arte. Rio de Janeiro: Andrea Jakobsson Estúdio Editorial, 280p.

Gannon, Patrick, Edjigayehu Seyoum‐Edjigu, David Cooper, Trevor Sandwith, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, Barbara Lang, Jamison Ervin & Sarat Gidda, 2017. Status and Prospects for Achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11: Implications of National Commitments and Priority Actions. Parks (IUCN): 23(2): 13-26.

Sharrock, Suzanne, Robert Hoft & Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, 2018. An Overview of recent progress in the Implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation – A Global Perspective. Rodriguésia 69(4): 1489-1511.

About the Author

Braulio F. S. Dias       Photo: Braulio F. S. Dias
Braulio F. S. Dias is an Associate Professor of Ecology at the University of Brasilia, Chair of the global council of Birdlife International and former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.