Living in Harmony with Nature to Transform Our World: The CBD’s Contribution to SDG Implementation (Part II)
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National reporting on the implementation of the CBD Strategic Plan and progress towards the Aichi Targets can provide useful insights and support implementation of more than half of all SDGs.

Part II: The Role of CBD National Reporting for Integrated SDG Implementation

Next to bottom-up implementation, another key feature of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is integration. The targets under the SDGs deliberately refer to multiple goals and different issue areas to facilitate mainstreaming across sectors and policy coherence in implementation. The second installment of this two-part policy update explores how implementation action and reporting under the CBD Strategic Plan can support this objective.

Biodiversity and ecosystems affect almost every aspect of human life. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is therefore at the base of a wide spectrum of human activities ranging from food production, fishing and hunting to the extraction of biological raw materials to recreational uses of nature. Furthermore, human activities, in particular agriculture and the expansion of urban centers and transport infrastructure, as well as climate change, are among the most important drivers of biodiversity loss. Biodiversity is at the core of many complex interdependencies through which action on one SDG may (positively or negatively) affect progress on other SDGs. The extent to which this interdependence is recognized and emphasized in recommendations for implementation varies. A review of the SDGs and their targets from a science perspective conducted by the International Council for Science and the International Social Science Council (ICSU, ISSC 2015) shows that the biodiversity-focused SDGs are linked to targets under all other SDGs. A different analysis conducted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Le Blanc 2015) focusing on the actual references made in the text of the targets shows fewer linkages. In this study, SDG 14 addressing life below water is the least integrated SDG, as it is linked to only two other Goals. By contrast, SDG 15 addressing life on land is linked to six other Goals.

The following sections explore the most prominent interdependencies between biodiversity conservation targets under the SDGs and discuss possible ways in which reporting under the CBD Strategic Plan can support the development of integrated strategies for implementation.

Life on Land and Below Water

The importance of biodiversity for the 2030 Agenda is directly recognized in SDG 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) and SDG 15 (protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss). As the titles of these goals indicate, the CBD is far from being the only process addressing the sustainable management of, and co-existence with, life on earth. Both goals cut across the mandates of several UN bodies and agencies as well as other biodiversity-related conventions.

Not surprisingly, seven out of 12 targets under SDG 15 directly reflect one or several of the Aichi Targets. Notable exceptions include target 15.3, which focuses on a call included in the 2012 Rio+20 outcome document to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN). The 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recognized that this target is a “strong vehicle for driving implementation of the UNCCD,” and invited countries to set voluntary targets to achieve LDN. The target also reflects Aichi Targets 5 and 15 which aim at the significant reduction of ecosystem degradation and the restoration of at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by 2020. Likewise, targets 15.7 and 15.c refer to actions related to the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); and targets 15.2 and 15.b, on sustainable forest management (SFM) and mobilizing resources for SFM, reflect the overlapping mandates between the CBD, the UN Forum on Forests and other forest-related processes. The high degree of alignment on SDG 15 means that the implementation activities and national reporting under the CBD are directly relevant for reporting progress on SDG 15. Close alignment of reporting formats could facilitate forwarding relevant information from CBD national reports to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and avoid duplication of efforts.

Under SDG 14, only target 14.5 on the conservation of coastal and marine areas is directly aligned with the Aichi Targets. Most of the other targets address issues that are either outside or on the fringe of the CBD’s mandate, such as illegal fisheries management or conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The CBD does, however, have an advisory function on these issues, in particular with regard to the development of new instruments under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on protecting the marine environment and access and benefit-sharing with regard to marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The CBD may therefore have a significant contribution to make in monitoring progress on SDG 14 through its Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), rather than through national reporting.

Agricultural Ecosystems and Genetic Resources to Combat Hunger

Biodiversity is also relevant beyond these goals as the implementation of many other SDGs depends on stable and predictable flows of ecosystem services. This importance is most obvious with regard to SDG 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) as food cannot be produced without healthy agricultural ecosystems or the genetic diversity of domesticated plant and animal species. At the same time, agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. The Fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook (CBD 2014a) predicts that agriculture could account for 70% of the loss of terrestrial biodiversity until 2020. Sustainable intensification of agriculture is therefore not only one of the most important examples of sustainable use of (agricultural) biodiversity, it is also imperative to reduce pressure on the diversity of life on land. The CBD and FAO have a long history of recognizing each other’s contributions in global assessments and some instruments, such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGR) and other work under the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), were negotiated explicitly “in harmony” with the CBD. National reporting as well as global assessment reports by both institutions therefore embrace the mutual benefits of their work and can make a useful contribution to assessing progress on SDG 2, in particular targets 2.3 (increasing productivity of agriculture and fisheries), 2.4 (sustainable and resilient food production systems) and 2.5 (maintaining genetic diversity of plant, animal and fish species for food production). Reporting on soil carbon stocks will also be important for evaluating the productivity and resilience of agricultural ecosystems (see next section).

Biodiversity for Climate Action

A similar interdependence exists between biodiversity and SDG 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts). Healthy ecosystems are the most important carbon sinks and biodiversity is essential for resilient livelihoods and maintaining ecosystem services under impacts of climate change. Progress on several targets under these SDGs is therefore mutually dependent on the implementation of the CBD and other biodiversity-related conventions. In contrast to agriculture, however, efforts to integrate implementation and reporting on biodiversity and climate change are more recent. Nonetheless, reporting under Aichi Targets 10 (impacts of climate change on vulnerable ecosystems) and 15 (enhancing ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks) will be directly useful to assess the contribution of biodiversity to climate change mitigation and impacts of climate change on biodiversity. The Joint Liaison Group of the Rio Conventions has proposed to develop an integrated approach to monitoring soil carbon stocks as an indicator for trends in ecosystem function, soil health and climate as well as land use and management (CBD 2014b, UNCCD 2015). An increase in soil carbon is correlated with healthier land that acts as a carbon sink and is more productive and more resilient. An integrated approach to soil carbon management therefore provides important data to assess progress with regard to biodiversity conservation, land degradation neutrality and climate action. Other indicators may offer similar synergies in reporting. Mainstreaming such approaches into the relevant Conventions may be challenging, however, as the underlying linkages have not been given the same attention in all Conventions and bodies involved.

Ecosystem Services for Poverty Reduction, Good Health and Well-Being, and Clean Water

Implementation of the Aichi Targets will also provide important benefits to SDG 1 (end poverty in all forms everywhere); SDG 3 (ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages); and SDG 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). Healthy and resilient ecosystems provide the livelihoods for millions of farmers, fisher folk and other populations. Reducing pollution benefits human health as well as ecosystems and restoration of wetlands. Protecting inland water ecosystems contributes to the availability of safe and stable drinking water supplies. The targets on poverty, good health and well-being, and clean water and sanitation, however, make only unspecific reference to reducing pollution and conserving ecosystems. These references do not capture the wide range of benefits that biodiversity conservation and sustainable use can provide. In these cases, the main contribution of national reporting under the CBD may be to increase awareness of the co-benefits and informing the search for integrated approaches to implementation.

Monitoring Drivers of Biodiversity Loss

Finally, there are several targets that may give rise to strategies that rely on ecosystem services in ways that exceed biophysical limits or otherwise enhance drivers of biodiversity loss, in particular: SDG 7 (ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all); SDG 9 (build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation); SDG 11 (make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable); and SDG 12 (ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). A report by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), for example, has estimated the combined demand for biomass and associated land use for food, animal feed, biomaterials and bioenergy consumption necessary to achieve the SDGs on hunger, energy, and sustainable consumption and production (IASS 2015). The report found that this demand would by far exceed the capacity of currently available land to produce biomass, bearing in mind that a large proportion of this land is subject to accelerating soil degradation. While the respective targets require that all biomass production must become sustainable, implementing sustainable and resilient practices on a global scale will take time. In the short- and medium-term, countries may therefore face difficult choices, as making progress on one goal, for example reducing hunger, may come at the expense of progress on other goals, such as halting deforestation or achieving land degradation neutrality. Similarly, the accelerated establishment of new industrial and transport infrastructure could increase habitat destruction or fragmentation. In these cases, reporting under the CBD can contribute to monitoring the potential adverse impacts on biodiversity and to ensuring that implementation activities remain within safe biophysical limits in the long run. This function would need to be explicitly recognized and appropriate reporting channels established, since the targets under these SDGs do not reference the potential impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems. The experience of existing initiatives such as the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), which assists states developing approaches to mainstream poverty-environment issues into national planning processes and develop indicators to meet national goals and targets, can provide useful starting points for doing so.

Conclusion

National reporting on the implementation of the CBD Strategic Plan and progress towards the Aichi Targets can provide useful insights and support implementation of more than half of all SDGs; however the role of reporting varies. The biodiversity-focused SDGs can make direct use of the data submitted under the CBD making the case for aligned reporting frameworks to capitalize on CBD experience and avoid duplication of work. Other SDGs can benefit from significant synergies and co-benefits. In some areas, such as agriculture, these positive linkages are well recognized and reflected in international assessments based on national reporting. In other areas, such as poverty, health and water, these linkages may need to be further developed to fully exploit their potential. Several goals are linked to biodiversity in ways that may lead to adverse impacts. In these cases, a mechanism could be established that uses data from CBD reporting to monitor potential impacts on drivers of biodiversity loss. Such a mechanism could be supported by the work of inclusive platforms at the national level with a mandate to ensure that the demands for natural resources arising from the implementation of all SDGs are managed in an inclusive and transparent way to balance economic, social and environmental concerns.

This is Part 2 of a two-part policy update. Part I explored whether the bottom-up approach to implementation established under the CBD Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets could serve as a model for SDG implementation. The author would like to thank Lauren Anderson, Delia Paul, Elena Kosolapova, Wangu Mwangi, Nathalie Risse, Lynn Wagner, and Virginia Wiseman for their valuable input and comments to this update.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is pleased to bring you a series of policy updates on national reporting and implementation processes within the multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) processes that we have been tracking for over two decades. Decisions taken in 2015 by intergovernmental policy makers have sought to change the approach to implementing sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change are universal agendas, with implied implementation obligations for all countries. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin writers and thematic experts for our Policy & Practice knowledgebases have monitored discussions on the successes and shortcomings of national planning and reporting processes within the MEAs and other processes we follow. Our hope is that this series will help all concerned with implementing the new sustainable development directions of 2015 to build on lessons of the past.

References

CBD (2014a). Global Biodiversity Outlook 4. Montréal.

CBD (2014b). Outcome of the Thirteenth Meeting of the Joint Liaison Group of the Rio Conventions. Montréal.

IASS (2015). The Role of Biomass in the Sustainable Development Goals: A Reality Check and Governance Implications. Berlin .IASS Working Paper.

ICSU, ISSC (2015). Review of the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).

Le Blanc, David (2015). Towards Integration at Last? The Sustainable Development Goals as a Network of Targets. New York. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) Working Paper No. 141.

UNCCD (2015). Pivotal Soil Carbon. Bonn. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Science-Policy Brief 01.

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