Updated: Dec 22, 2022
By Hari Balasubramanian
Today is a good day. The world came together at COP15 and agreed on a Global Biodiversity Framework. Some will say it reached too far and others will say it is not ambitious enough. To me, that is a great indication of negotiated success at the most difficult level - unanimous global agreement. In addition to all the side events, client support, panels, moderating, seeing old friends and celebrating concrete examples of delivering conservation on the ground in partnership with diverse groups, I was privileged to also have a view into the negotiations as part of a country delegation. Here are some reflections on what happened, where we are, and where we need to go.
The purpose of a global agreement in my mind is to set the frame and agree, in principle, on goals, targets, process, resources, equity and accountability. It is not a place to figure out implementation pathways. For those that say that the meeting didn't go far enough into execution, I appreciate the frustration. However, this is where the other work can springboard. And the wonderful reality is that we have great examples to build from! Some of the best moments of the week were hearing and learning from communities supported by BHP Foundation implementing at scale on the front lines at the Culture First side event inside the Nature Positive Pavilion (see photos below). More of this is needed!
There is a simple path. We all hear that biodiversity and nature are complex and complicated and therefore difficult to do anything about. Yes, complex - that is the inherent underlying value of nature! What I am heartened by is that people are getting their heads around the fact that it may not be that complicated. Protect (30% of critical intact nature); restore (critical stuff we have lost); and, sustainably manage the rest. Yes, 'protect', 'restore' and 'sustainable' need to be qualified, but it's a great, and simple, frame (thanks Johan Rockstrom and others)!
The money and the will are there. We all hear that it will be expensive and "Resource Mobilization" was a central, contentious point of the negotiations. Countries don't want to be on the hook for the full ~$700B annual financial gap, especially while the private sector reaps the rewards and pays very little, if anything. COP15 was different than previous conversations for me because the private sector was there, in numbers, saying that they would be willing providers of resources. I am struck by John Stackhouse giving a brief explanation of what the financial sector needs to see for any investment - an asset base that provides consistent revenue - and the powerful realization "What better asset than nature to provide long-term revenue?". Not a new concept by any stretch. What is new is that it is coming from the largest bank in Canada. I am also struck by timing. As the high-level negotiators met for the last marathon session to come to consensus, the rest of the world tuned into perhaps the greatest World Cup final ever. I too was enthralled in the game, but couldn’t help but acknowledge that the ~$220B spent on this sporting event could make a big dent in the biodiversity funding gap.
The legal and regulatory frameworks are coming. We all hear that policies don't allow for us to protect nature, and that is true. But, like business and finance, policies aren't inherently positive or negative - it is people that make them so. As Charmian (Char) Love emphatically said "People as a force for good!". Advancements in the recognition of perverse subsidies and removing them (government policies that make extractive activity at attractive, even at the cost of destroying nature) are a great start – to the tune of ~$500B/year.
The role of law came throughout the week. Civil code adjustments to allow for protection to be considered a ‘use’ of property, property law to account for nature as an underlying asset, and criminal law to include Ecocide as an International crime.
Examples of the possible exist. What we don’t hear nearly enough of about is what happens when the systems allow for us to rightfully value nature and when finance starts to flow at scale? How do we ensure that the delivery is consistent with the goals, and that the best entities are getting the best data and technical support, with the best partners and the most efficient pathway to deliver solutions for the transition? Turns out, we have examples of all of that too – we need more capacity, more scale, and more efficient pathways to deliver commitments to execution. Our friends at conservation organizations, government, corporations and family offices, are at various points along their journey.
As we reflect on the close of another Convention and another year, let’s keep the words of Domingo Paes from the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative in mind, “relax, let’s not be so serious. This is important, but we should get along, all of us, while solving for it”. I hope you will gather as I will over the next few weeks, with family, friends and neighbors. Bring something to the table, keep your ears open, listen with empathy, help where you can, and don’t let the drunk uncle occupy too much air in the room.
What next? Working where commitment meets action; where ambition meets implementation; where capital meets community. EcoAdvisors has spent the last ten years influencing over $4.5B precisely building the linkages between these spaces. We are ready to scale even further. At the end of 2022, I am glad that the world has finally agreed that this planet is kind of important for our existence. Let’s enjoy a few weeks around dinner tables and bring that same philosophy of learning, hope and trusted relationships around boardroom and community tables into 2023. Join us and let’s go and support the future of humanity together!