Biodiversity summit in Mexico makes important progress

Luc Janssens de Bisthoven - KBIN/IRSNB
20 December 2016
The 13th biodiversity summit (COP13) in Mexico achieved a strong commitment on the part of the international community to protect biodiversity more effectively. However, significant efforts are still required to achieve the Aichi 2020 biodiversity targets.

The 13th 'Conference of the Parties' of the UN Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) was held in Cancun (Mexico) between 4 and 17 December 2016. This convention was established in the wake of the major UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 1992. Two additional protocols were subsequently added, the Cartagena protocol on genetically modified organisms, and the Nagoya protocol on the equitable sharing of genetic resources. Both protocols were addressed in separate conferences in Cancun.

Host country Mexico benefited from the participation of more than 160 countries, including Belgium, and immediately set a good example by protecting its extensive marine areas. As such, Mexico achieved one of the most effective targets of the 20 Aichi targets of the global UN Biodiversity strategy, namely target 11, protecting at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas.

At the COP13, an agreement was concluded between the CBD and WWF International (World Wide Fund for Nature). The WWF's widely-praised annual 'Living Planet' reports will now have a prominent place in the global discussion on the decrease in biodiversity and its worldwide protection. The CBD will also systematically link it to other global agendas including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate (2015). Better protection of biodiversity plays a prominent role in both agendas. Consequently, climate adaptation and mitigation will need to take the preservation of ecosystems such as forests and mangroves much more into account.

Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, President of the CBD, was cautiously optimistic. Although the 2020 targets are far from being achieved, the international community has taken significant steps since the last COP12 in South Korea (2014). As such, management and knowledge in the area of biodiversity has improved, and policy has given more attention to the issue of biodiversity. Through awareness-raising, the issue has attracted greater interest. The COP13 developed a detailed short-term action plan in order to gain expertise for each of the Aichi targets. Belgium - through the CEBioS programme of the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences and with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation - will play a prominent role in this respect in strengthening the Clearing House Mechanism in developing countries. Our country has even won an award in this area.

At the COP13, the main areas of scrutiny were the forestry management, fisheries, agriculture and tourism industries (see Cancun Declaration with 15 action points). Although the resolutions of the conference had not yet been officially announced as this article went to press, some of the milestones of the COP13 can already be unveiled:

  • The recently published IPBES report on pollination must be incorporated in order to target more sustainable agriculture;
  • Forestry management needs to take more account of biodiversity;
  • Restoring ecosystems is becoming more important in the global agenda;
  • "Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas" (EBSAs) will be given more attention, also in cold water areas, while waste management and recycling using voluntary practical guidelines will be improved in order to avoid marine waste. More research is needed to determine the impact of underwater noise on marine mammals.
  • Better protection and use of traditional knowledge with the agreement of local and native communities;
  • Strategic guidance for the coming 4 years in order to supplement the "Global Environmental Fund" (GEF), whereby the need to double the financing for biodiversity in developing countries has been acknowledged.


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