Keep the highest level of ambition for biodiversity targets

The world’s countries meeting at the upcoming UN biodiversity summit in China need to have the highest level of ambition to protect and restore living nature. The current draft from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a step in the right direction — but it’s not enough, according to biodiversity experts within and beyond the Earth Commission.

Keep the highest level of ambition for biodiversity targets

Earth Commissioners David Obura and Fabrice Declerk at the Davos workshop. Photo: Rico Andrade,

Next week, the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the CBD will meet to discuss the first draft of the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, released on 5 July 2021. The draft will be subject to comments during the OEWG meeting from 23 August to 3 September, with final negotiations at the next meeting of the conference of the parties in Kunming, China, set for October this year.

Experts working with the Earth Commission and beyond welcome the targets put forward by the CBD in its draft, and urge the negotiators to maintain the highest level of ambition.

Video Credit: Rico Andrade,

The proposed goals and milestones fully embrace the multiple facets of the network of life that makes up the biosphere. This draft includes integrity as seen from an ecosystem scale as a combination of area and connectivity, but also as healthy populations of all species, thus aiming at reducing extinction rates and risk across taxonomic and functional groups. Genetic diversity was also included in this draft, including not only rare and wild species, but also domesticated ones important for the provision of nature contributions to people.

In February last year, more than 60 leading biodiversity scientists gathered in Davos to put together a series of recommendations for the next decade goals of the CBD (Díaz et al., 2020, Science; see technical report to the CBD). The workshop was convened by members of the Earth Commission, in collaboration with CBD and biodiversity experts from Future Earth‘s biodiversity research projects. Their main message was that focusing on only one dimension of biodiversity would be insufficient, and a multi-scale and multi-target strategy that matches the complexity of the biosphere should be adopted.

Seeing these multiple facets in the draft document released in July shows how serious the CBD has been in listening and incorporating the latest science in the design of global biodiversity goals. Yet the science shows that higher levels of ambition are needed.

Details matter

In fact, the levels of ambition proposed in the CBD draft are not as high as the science shows is needed. For example, the CBD proposes at least 15% increase in area with at least 5% net gain increase in connectivity and integrity by 2030. Díaz et al. (2020) proposed a higher ambition — 20% — targeted differently for natural and managed ecosystems. Managed ecosystems, such as agricultural landscapes, also host many species and produce multiple benefits upon which society relies. Increasing integrity of ecosystems and conserving species, while maintaining such multifunctionality, is key to achieving the CBD ambitions.

Another milestone for the CBD is reducing extinction risk by at least 10% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Díaz et al. (2020) proposes a 50% reduction in extinction risk by 2030.

The current draft does not integrate a quantitative goal on species abundance nor functional groups. Díaz et al. (2020) propose species abundances need to be stabilized by 2030 and functional roles recovered by 2050 across the entire distributional range of species and functional groups that have been depleted.

Of course, as the report makes clear, none of these high ambitions would be achievable without transformative change across sectors — change that virtually all recent international reports are calling for.

Safe and just planet

Encouragingly, the scientific community’s specific inputs on the multiple facets of the web of life and the emphasis on nature’s contributions to people were taken up in the final zero draft document. The goals have been also designed with justice aspects in mind, both in terms of distributional aspects of benefits, responsibilities, and implementation costs. Nature’s contributions to people and how they are distributed are at the heart of the CBD strategy.

How to achieve the goals globally and translate them into actions at regional and local levels remain open questions. The division of responsibilities and sharing of costs and benefits are also key questions that will need to be addressed by policy makers, and are mentioned with particular framing for the Global South. These issues are key to a safe and just corridor for humanity.

We urge the CBD to maintain the high levels of ambitions put forward in the first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. And to go beyond: the highest levels of ambition are needed if we are to secure the fabric of life in which our civilization depends upon and our future generations.

Scientists who are not part of the national delegations or otherwise involved in the OEWG process at this stage can still act. They can make sure to get scientific messages across by commenting online, participating in the many webinars and fora organized by science academies and science organizations, writing letters to journals and media outlets, and of course, by getting in touch with the national delegations and letting them know their views. 
Follow the public proceedings of the CBD here on YouTube: