United in a call for higher ambition on the global biodiversity agenda

Ahead of the UN biodiversity summit later this month, a partnership of environment and development organisations – including IIED – are urging world leaders to ramp up ambition on action for nature, climate and development.

Dilys Roe's picture
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18 September 2020

Dilys Roe is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group

Man and woman cut a tree into planks.

COVID-19 has proved that transformative action is possible with political will, so a breadth of organisations are calling on world leaders to take action to stop biodiversity loss (Photo: Tomas Munita/CIFOR via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In June and July this year, IIED joined 27 partners – ranging from UN agencies to business groups to Indigenous Peoples’ organisations – to co-convene a series of “Virtual biodiversity dialogues”. The purpose of the dialogues? To explore some of the issues under consideration in the emerging post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and to highlight common concerns and priorities for global leaders to take into account during the negotiations.

Making the most of COVID-19 constraints

The partnership of environment and development organisations was established in anticipation of the IUCN World Conservation Congress being held in France in June 2020. The original purpose of the partnership was to co-organise a series of side events at the congress, located in a joint ’pavilion’.

All events were to focus on the new framework due to be agreed at the Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), that was due to be held in October 2020.

COVID-19 obviously put a halt to both the IUCN and CBD gatherings but the ’Post-2020 Pavilion Partnership’ decided to make the most of these global meetings being postponed and organised a series of online events instead.

Overall, nearly 900 people from all corners of the world participated in the series of 10 dialogues discussing issues ranging from the scope and content of ambitious global goals for nature to governance for transformative change; from synergies with other conventions and the Sustainable Development Goals to intergenerational equity.

Equity and justice at the heart of a new biodiversity agreement

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the dialogues, from an IIED perspective, was the clear message that rights, equity and justice must lie at the heart of the post-2020 framework. These are issues that IIED has long advocated for, particularly through our work on equity in the context of protected area management. We recognise the urgent need to tackle biodiversity loss and to protect the world’s remaining intact habitats.

But efforts to protect biodiversity that ride rough-shod over local people’s rights to own and manage their resources are not acceptable, and we share concerns with human rights groups as to the potential implications of calls for 30% of land to be protected by 2030.

The dialogues made clear that this year must mark the start of a pivotal moment in human history when we reset our relationship with nature. COVID-19 has shown just how catastrophically misaligned we currently are. Last year’s IPBES Global Assessment highlighted how nature underpins the delivery of all the SDGs. And our own work emphasises the development implications of biodiversity loss.

The drivers of both biodiversity loss and the emergence of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 lie in our mismanagement of nature – in unfettered land conversion and habitat destruction driven by our global food system.

Reflecting this, a further clear message from the dialogues was that world leaders must adopt an ambitious global goal for nature that commits the world to halting further loss of nature and restoring what we have already lost. Participants discussed the concept of ‘nature positive’ as a parallel to ‘carbon neutral’ in the climate negotiations and in one session agreed we would like to see a global ambition for an equitable, carbon-neutral and nature-positive world.

Calling on world leaders to do better

Achieving this ambition would require transformative change in many areas. In our financial systems, food systems, trade systems, and in governance – from international to local levels. If COVID-19 has shown us anything at all it is that transformative action is possible when the risks of inaction are perceived to be great enough. Governments can take actions that previously might have been thought impossible.

One of the objectives of the virtual biodiversity dialogues was therefore to recognise the moment of opportunity that COVID-19 presents amid catastrophe and to collectively craft some key messages for the UN Summit on Biodiversity on 30 September. The heads of the partner organisations have signed a call to action (PDF) aimed at the world leaders participating in the summit.

The call outlines four key measures we would like leaders to take, to deliver an ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

The Post-2020 Pavilion partners are not the only organisations issuing a call to action ahead of the UN Biodiversity Summit. Other sectors of society are also calling for ambitious, collective action for nature, climate and development including (but not limited to) business, humanitarian organisations and youth.

Will world leaders respond to these calls or will it be just business as usual? Critical agreements on nature and climate will not be forged until next year. But this month’s summit provides an opportunity for heads of state and government to set the tone for the negotiations to come.

Let’s hope that the tone in the statements that will emerge from the UN summit reflects the high ambition we need, and is accompanied by commitments to real action and change (yes, even the transformative stuff), not the lip service we’ve been used to.


Read the joint press release where hundreds of organisations – including businesses; environment and development organisations, humanitarian organisations; faith groups; local and regional governments; Indigenous Peoples; and youth – call on world leaders to ‘Act on nature’.

About the author

Dilys Roe (dilys.roe@iied.org) is principal researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group

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