Reflections from the three Rio Conventions

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21 February 2023
Adrian Leitoro

In 2022, I attended in-person the Conference of the Parties (COP)s of the three Rio Conventions on climate, biodiversity, and desertification, which were adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to collaboratively address these interlinked environmental challenges. Below I present some commentary and reflections on these three events.

  1. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) COP 15: A New Deal for Nature

The final agreement included language recognizing and respecting Indigenous rights. Section C of the Framework emphasizes the need for respect of local people’s rights and their participation in decision-making. Target 3 now explicitly includes “Indigenous and traditional territories” as a third pathway for ecosystem protection, in addition to protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. This recognition is seen as critical for the achievement of Target 3, and aligns with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) welcomed the recognition of the contributions, roles, rights, and responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the framework.

Another bone of contention centered on what kinds of landscapes should be earmarked for protection. On both a global and national level, biodiversity tends to be concentrated within certain areas. This means that protecting the same amount of land will not necessarily produce the same outcomes for biodiversity from one region to the next. The final agreement promises to focus on “areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services” – something considered a positive by conservationists.

The framework aims to mobilize at least USD 200 billion per year by 2030, with developed countries expected to “substantially and progressively increase” their international finance flows for nature to at least USD 20 billion per year by 2025 and USD 30 billion per year by 2030. However, despite these pledges, the funding falls significantly short of the estimated annual financing gap of USD 700 billion per year that is needed to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The flow of money from developed to developing countries was a controversial issue, as illustrated by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s position during the last hours of the negotiations.

Overall, the GBF may not be perfect, but it provides a good starting point for addressing the biodiversity crisis. More needs to be done to ensure that finances are commensurate with the framework’s ambition. It’s clear that many developing countries need to step up their contributions to nature, but developed countries also need to allocate an adequate share of their national budgets to conserving global biodiversity.

2. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s COP 27: The African COP

The biggest news out of the COP 27 was that Parties agreed on a new fund to finance “loss and damage”. This was a significant development considering discussions on loss and damage had remained highly technical in the past. The new fund recognizes the irreversible impacts of climate disasters. Developed countries, development banks, NGOs, and businesses were urged to support the fund, and reference was made to sources of money “under and outside” the UN process. However, there remains concerns that the fund may be underfunded similar to other commitments made at previous conventions.

Speaking as part of a high level plenary session on the need for  soil resolution at the UNFCCC COP 27. Photo by Leigh Winoweicki, CIFOR-ICRAF

The majority of the money that was committed at COP 27 was for insurance programs, early-warning systems, and the Santiago Network, which aims to connect vulnerable developing countries with providers of technical assistance, knowledge, and resources to address climate risks. The biggest chunk of money went to a joint initiative dubbed the ‘Global Shield’, which represents a collaboration between the G7 and the V20 group of climate-vulnerable nations. Campaigners were cautious, warning that the Shield should not replace other funds and other financial mechanisms. 

Overall, the outcomes of COP 27 were significant in terms of the progress made in addressing the issue of loss and damage associated with climate change. However, commitments on mitigation did not advance from previous COPs, and the phasing out of fossil fuels – the principal cause of the climate crisis – remains unexplicit in the decision texts. Progress was made on the global goal on adaptation, but very little towards adaptation finance, which remains a key priority for the Africa and developing countries in General.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) COP 15: Land, Life, and Legacy

The UNCCD COP 15 issued 38 resolutions on issues including land tenure, migration, and gender, emphasizing the importance of land in addressing multiple crises. Countries pledged to improve drought resilience by detecting dryland expansion, revising national policies, and implementing early warning systems. Leaders agreed to prioritize and guarantee women’s engagement in land management for sustainable land restoration.

Other key outcomes from the conference included the Abidjan Call issued by the heads of state and government to promote long-term environmental sustainability, the Abidjan Declaration on achieving gender equality for successful land restoration, and the COP 15 Land, Life, and Legacy Declaration, which responded to the findings of the UNCCD’s flagship Global Land Outlook 2 report.

Some other key messages at COP 15 include the following:

  • Healthy and productive land resources – soil, water and biodiversity – are the foundation of societies and economies. Communities, businesses, investors, entrepreneurs, and especially young people must be included and mobilized in restoring our land.
  • Land tenure security for communities and young people, as well as co-management options, need to be at the center of implementing land degradation neutrality targets. 
  • There is a need to explore innovative ways to combat droughts and mobilize drought finance, especially because of their increasing frequency and duration – as highlighted in the Drought in Numbers report. The global leaders representing UN member states agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought for 2022-2024 to look into possible options, including global policy instruments and regional policy frameworks, to support a shift from reactive to proactive drought management

Conclusion

The three Rio Conventions (UNCBD COP 15, UNFCCC COP 27, and UNCCD COP 15) focused on the triple crises of climate, biodiversity, and desertification. Interacting with the three conventions provided a unique understanding and appreciation of the complexities of addressing these crises. There is lots of negative feedback on the role COPs play in addressing some of the challenges – which are justified – but the COPs do continue to offer an important platform for developing countries to voice their concerns and be heard. 

Key achievements in from the conventions in 2022 include the recognition of Indigenous rights and traditional territories in the UNCBD, the establishment of a fund for loss and damage at COP 27, and the Abidjan Call issued by the heads of state and government to promote long-term environmental sustainability at UNCCD COP 15. 

I am grateful to the Lavazza Foundation, Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) and PowerShift Africa for their support in enabling my participation in the three Rio conventions.

Adrian Leitoro

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Supporting partners 2023

Supporting partners

The Restoration Stewards program provides funding, mentorship and training to deepen the impact of youth-led restoration projects. The year-long program is run by the Youth in Landscapes Initiative (YIL) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) under the banner of Generation Restoration to support and highlight the work of eight young restoration practitioners and their teams in 2023.

During the program, the Restoration Stewards and their teams are  supported to further develop their project and serve as ambassadors at both global and local levels. Globally, the Restoration Stewards share their journeys in a series of vlogs and blogs documenting their stories of inspiration and challenges and participate in different international events to showcase their work. Locally, they are sparking a restoration movement, mobilizing local communities and creating pathways to connect, share, learn, and act for livelihoods and landscapes.