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  • Writer's pictureRob Sassor

Dispatch from the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15

Updated: Dec 19, 2022


Rob with University of Cambridge Conservation Leadership Alumni Network (UCCLAN) colleagues Jingjing Chen, Iris Dicke and Rosalind Helfand (behind the camera) hashing-out a position paper to push global leaders to take bold action.

This month, more than 10,000 conservationists and government leaders braved the Montréal winter to establish a global biodiversity framework (GBF) to save life on Earth. Or so the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 was billed. In truth, the forces perpetuating the status quo are strong at COP15. The imaginative leaps and cross-boundary collaboration needed to solve for the sixth mass extinction are largely absent in public venues where negotiations occur. While in the hallways and at receptions, party delegates are wont to agree: If the GBF is watered-down, it will be up to individual nations to take action that outstrips its ambition.


I had the chance to attend a portion of the two-week negotiations as a member of the delegation from the University of Cambridge Conservation Leadership Alumni Network. Here are reflections from the proceedings so far:

  • It would be naïve and hypocritical for a consultant (me) to go to Montréal to represent alumni from one of the oldest institutions on Earth (Cambridge) and then take an anti-capitalist stance once there. It also goes without saying that capitalism and colonialism are drivers of manifold harm to people and planet, and that we must reflect as a global community on whether other ways of organizing society will better promote harmony for us all, and for the long-term. Places like New Zealand, India and Bhutan have all enacted eco-centric laws in recent years; and one of the world's most capitalist nations, the United States, doesn't participate in the COP. I had hoped this would allow for more balanced discussions. Instead, negotiators (some of whom come from their nation's ministries of commerce and trade, rather than the environment) were fixed to economic paradigms. Gross Domestic Product, a relatively new concept in human history, reigns supreme. And with it, false narratives about economic loss for biodiversity gain. We urgently need a global discussion about whether the GDP is the correct North Star and, if not, how we can realign our systems to safeguard prosperity, health and the natural systems on which we depend; there is no such reflection at the COP. And in the interim, we need to tackle head-on the narrative that promoting sustainability comes at an economic cost.

  • The COP leaves too much talent on the sidelines. Looking around the room, I am often in awe of the expertise among observers. From academics I admire to leaders of global scientific bodies to indigenous leaders who speak powerfully for the rights of nature. These leaders have the perspectives, knowledge and wisdom needed to help us make sense of some of the most pressing questions of our time: What are nations’ aspirations for co-managing land and sea with indigenous peoples and rematriating land to its historic stewards? Which countries are moving out on this the furthest and fastest? Which are conceptually open to it but don’t want to be legally bound to do so? Which have concerns, and what are they? While these nuanced conversations occurred in the hallways of the COP, it was easy to think that the negotiators—who argued at times over what amounted to proofreading, while holding hard lines defending their nation's position versus thinking globally together—had lost the plot.

  • The section of the framework that most captures my imagination are its principles, which are included in a part of the introduction called “B Bis.” This is where we see what the CBD stands for: human rights, gender equity, honoring indigenous peoples’ expertise, and more. There are questions about the future of B Bis, and its fate will become clearer in the next week. A concern among many is that measurement will focus only on the framework’s targets (specific objectives for subjects like restoration, invasive alien species and pollution) rather than encompassing B Bis—which is needed to incentivize governments to advance biodiversity conservation in ways that multi-solve. I have an idea about how the principles can be matrixed across targets in the measurement framework, which I will follow-up on in a future update. So, stay tuned!

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Rob Sassor
Rob Sassor
27 de dez. de 2022

Update: The section referred to as "B Bis" above is now "Section C" of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. See page 5 here: https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/e6d3/cd1d/daf663719a03902a9b116c34/cop-15-l-25-en.pdf.

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