29 June 2022
The Urgency of Transforming Biodiversity Governance
UN Photo/Eva Fendiaspara
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Biodiversity underpins many SDGs well beyond the scope of SDGs 14 and 15 that respectively address life below water and life on land.

The worldwide failure to address biodiversity loss has led to a growing consensus that fundamental, transformative changes are needed in order to reverse these trends.

A recently published open-access book aims to provide and further develop a governance perspective on achieving transformative change.

By Elsa Tsioumani, IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin and University of Trento, Italy, Marcel T. J. Kok, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and Ingrid J. Visseren-Hamakers, Radboud University, Netherlands

Biodiversity loss continues unabated. Despite an array of international law and policy instruments, past and ongoing governance efforts have not been effectively supporting the conservation and sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity.

Biodiversity underpins many SDGs well beyond the scope of SDGs 14 and 15 that respectively address life below water and life on land. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems provide the essential resources and ecosystem functions that directly support a range of societal sectors and economic activities, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and tourism. They contribute to climate change adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction (DRR). They mitigate air, water, and soil pollution. They underpin water supplies. They are also increasingly linked to good health and well-being.

The worldwide failure to address biodiversity loss has led to a growing consensus that fundamental, transformative changes are needed in order to reverse these trends. The need for transformative change has been recognized by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its 2019 Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and is being addressed in the current negotiations for a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to replace the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were not achieved. Just last week, the negotiations on the preparation of a clean text for the GBF, to be concluded in December at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the CBD in Montreal, Canada, under the presidency of China, saw painstakingly little progress. This raises the question whether the GBF will indeed be able to catalyze, enable, and galvanize urgent and transformative action for biodiversity.

Despite societal and academic interest in transformative change and growing acknowledgement of such a need in international policy arenas, it is indeed far from clear how to enable, achieve or accelerate transformative biodiversity governance. A recently published open-access book aims to provide and further develop a governance perspective on achieving transformative change. Titled, ‘Transforming Biodiversity Governance,’ the book captures the state-of-the-art knowledge on transformative biodiversity governance and explores its practical implications in various contexts and issues relevant for the long-term biodiversity policy agenda.

The book proposes five governance approaches as part of transformative governance:

  • Integrative, operationalized in ways that ensure biodiversity solutions also have sustainable impacts at other scales and locations, on other issues and in other sectors;
  • Inclusive, in order to empower and emancipate those whose interests are currently not being met and who represent values that constitute transformative change towards sustainability;
  • Adaptive, since transformative change and governance, and our understanding of them, are moving targets, so governance needs to enable learning, experimentation, reflexivity, monitoring, and feedback;
  • Transdisciplinary, in ways that recognize different knowledge systems, and support the inclusion of sustainable and equitable values by focusing on types of knowledge that are currently underrepresented; and
  • Anticipatory, in ways that apply the precautionary principle when governing in the present for uncertain future developments, and especially the development or use of new technologies.

It is further suggested that governance can only become transformative if these approaches are focused on addressing the underlying societal causes of unsustainability and implemented in conjunction, while being cognizant of relationships between issues, sectors, scales, and places, and aiming to emancipate those holding transformative sustainability values.

The aim of the book is thus to enhance our understanding of ways forward for transformative biodiversity governance. With this, the book aims to inform the development and implementation of transformative biodiversity policies and action. In its chapters, over 90 authors from around the globe, with both academic and policy-related expertise, explore several topics at the core of transformative biodiversity governance, taking various approaches to transformation. The introductory chapter sets the stage by providing an overview of the current state of biodiversity, causes of biodiversity loss and its implications. It then introduces the concepts of transformative change and governance, and explains the book’s logic and organization. Chapter 2 illustrates how nature has been defined in the context of shifts in biodiversity governance in recent decades, and how different stakeholders have engaged with these concepts. It concludes that defining nature is far from an objective and conflict-free exercise. Instead of reductionist approaches, the authors promote pluralistic approaches, highlight the importance of transparency, and warn about the danger of treating concepts and approaches as truth claims, making them less open to other perspectives. Chapter 3 focuses on global biodiversity governance, with a focus on the CBD. It presents what needs to be transformed and discusses ways to achieve such transformation, using a “regime complex” lens. Chapter 4 aims to understand why the current state of biodiversity is so fragile, despite over half a century of global conservation efforts, and develop insights for more effective ways forward. The chapter shows that treating biodiversity loss, and thereby ecocentric, compassionate, and just sustainable development, as a priority, is an essential part of transformative governance.

The main aim of Chapter 5 is to discuss linkages between nature and generic health from a One Health as well as a transformative biodiversity governance perspective. Chapter 6 critically discusses the role of innovative financial instruments in transformative biodiversity governance, underscoring the limitations of innovative financial instruments in most dimensions of transformative governance. Chapter 7 discusses the relationships between biodiversity and emerging technologies, assessing the relationship between the CBD regime and the governance of three sets of emerging technologies: climate-related geoengineering; synthetic biology (including gene drives); and bioinformatics and digital sequence information. Chapter 8 assesses how principles of justice and equity should be interpreted and upheld in efforts to pursue transformative biodiversity governance. It argues that the depth, scale, and urgency of transformative change required demand heightened attention to both existing injustices and the advancement of multiple dimensions of justice, including procedural justice, recognition, and distributive justice. Chapter 9 argues that transformative biodiversity governance requires mainstreaming the interests of the individual animal. Applying an integrative governance perspective, it shows that, especially through rights-based approaches, moral and legal communities are expanding beyond humans to include nature and non-human animals. Chapter 10 focuses on marine bioprospecting in the Polar regions, studying in particular the responses of corporate actors to regulation in the context of ongoing negotiations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Chapter 11 examines the need for transformative change in the governance of protected and conserved areas, with a focus on the CBD GBF negotiations. Drawing from three case studies, the chapter proposes a new approach based on biodiversity and equity outcomes that incorporates integrative, inclusive, and adaptive elements of transformative governance. Chapter 12 argues mainstream institutional and societal structures cannot support the fundamental transformation needed to address species extinction, climate change, and global socioeconomic inequalities. The chapter reviews convivial conservation as a vision, politics, and set of governance mechanisms that move biodiversity governance beyond market mechanisms and protected areas. It further introduces the concept of “biodiversity impact chains” as one potential way to operationalize its transformative potential. Chapter 13 employs the concept of biodiversity policy integration to assess to what extent biodiversity is integrated into agricultural governance in developed and developing countries. The chapter finds that biodiversity policies are predominantly “add-on” and neither directly address biodiversity-threatening agricultural practices, nor specifically support more “nature-inclusive” agriculture. Chapter 14 explores how the governance of urban nature is transforming in response to the increasing urgency of this agenda, and the extent to which it is, in turn, becoming transformative for the governance of biodiversity. Chapter 15 analyzes the major underlying causes of marine biodiversity loss and focuses specifically on the lessons learned for transformative ocean governance in the context of area-based management and spatial planning. Finally, Chapter 16 wraps up the edited volume. Based on the contributions of the different chapters, it discusses opportunities and challenges for transformative biodiversity governance in the context of the GBF negotiations. Applying the book’s transformative governance framework to further harness the transformative potential of a number of governance arrangements put forward for the GBF, it argues that in this manner, transformative biodiversity governance can contribute to ecocentric, compassionate, and just sustainable development.

The book is written at a vital time for biodiversity around the world. Biodiversity is threatened more than ever before in human history, and nature and its vital contributions to people are deteriorating worldwide. This is highlighted by various recent global and regional assessments, including the CBD’s Global Biodiversity Outlook and the IPBES’ Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The GBF negotiations present a unique opportunity to demonstrate the political will and catalyze the transformative action needed. The next and final set of talks in Montreal will show whether CBD negotiators will live up to the challenge.

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