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“Global Biodiversity Framework Proves the Global Community Can Rise to the Occasion”: Interview with Basile van Havre, CBD COP15 Working Group Co-Chair

Basile van Havre was Co-Chair of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) “Open-Ended Working Group for a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” for four years.

His work culminated with the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the CBD in Montreal, Canada, in December last year, where the historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted.

The GBF shows that “major global issues can be addressed effectively by the global community”, van Havre tells CCICED in an exclusive interview. He praises China’s role as the CBD COP15 presidency, saying that it “created the conditions that led us to a successful outcome.” Now, China has the opportunity to use the capital and negotiating clout it has acquired to kickstart the implementation phase, he says.

What are your main takeaways from co-leading the CBD Working Group for a new Global Biodiversity Framework?

“First, that multilateral negotiations work. Major global issues can be addressed effectively by the global community. We can all see the struggle of other multilateral processes. But it is heartwarming to see that for nature we were able to come out with a successful process. This is proof that our global community can come together and rise to the occasion given the right conditions.

That does not mean that all is perfect. It would be great if the delegates can reach more agreements, leaving only a few to ministers. And more time should be allocated to negotiations: parties should agree to meet, say, every other month in the lead up to future CBD COPs.

Second, the importance of listening. I have been privileged in my career to have worked across vastly different cultures. This taught me the importance of listening and adapting. Key decisions may not necessarily be taken in a boardroom but rather outdoors, walking on the land and picking berries. Meeting agendas are a mere guiding instruments and sometimes we have to go back to issues we thought were closed.

Countless times I explained to stakeholders that we could not expect China to be for the GBF what France was to the Paris Agreement – and that we should rather see that as an opportunity for the process. This enabled us to create an open process, where we were able to factor in the needs of all parties and worldviews. Which in turn resulted in a better GBF.

Third, the incredible willingness of people to give. Through my four years as Co-chair, I could not list the number of people who offered their support. This included many scientists that provided advice, sometimes on a private and confidential basis (with no hope of recognition or publication) and without any retribution. Sometimes, they worked over year-end holidays and with very short deadlines. They did it because they trusted us and wanted to contribute to a greater whole.

And last, the need to be flexible and to look for opportunities even in the direst moment. The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragedy for humanity. It also had a negative impact on the GBF negotiations – not being able to meet in-person, delays that resulted in change of staff and loss of crucial personal relationships. Yet, we were able to make effective use of the circumstances by engaging with stakeholders far and wide. This limited the scope of what had to be negotiated at the summit: we did not have to discuss whether there would be a target but rather at what level the target would be set.”

What are your main reflections from the Kunming-Montreal CBD COP15?

“That the outcome exceeded everybody’s expectations. Interestingly, some organizations, such as the OECD, see aspects of the GBF as stronger than the Paris Agreement!  We knew that we were negotiating within the boundaries of a non-binding treaty. However, in the end it resulted in very strong language – let us hope that can be useful to other negotiations.

However, I also found that our current multilateral negotiation process is exhausting and suboptimal. We should find ways to enable smaller delegations (and solitary Co-chairs) to participate more fully in the process. I observed one developing country’s only delegate participate in all sessions of my contact group plus that of other contact groups and noticed that his engagement decreased over time.”

How did CBD COP15 change the global biodiversity conversation?

“Undoubtedly, the GBF process had a profound impact on the global perception of biodiversity issue and the awareness that we need to act. If the parties follow the direction of the GBF, they will be making profound changes to many fundamental aspects of life – starting with the major evolution of agri-food systems, infrastructure, and extractive industries.”

What is China’s role within the global biodiversity space?

“China has been instrumental in getting the international community from where it was a few years ago to the GBF. China created the conditions for a successful outcome: from setting targets that address all direct drivers of biodiversity loss, to developing a negotiation environment where all leaders took ownership of the outcome.

China will now lead the global community over a crucial implementation period leading up to CBD COP16. It has acquired significant experience as negotiation lead and a capital of goodwill with parties and stakeholders. China can now use this capital to advance the global agenda.”

What are the key challenges in the global biodiversity space in the next years?

“I see three core challenges. First, engaging all parts of society. It was striking to see how wide and far the private sector engaged during the GBF negotiations. I am not sure if we have the same level of engagement from the food and fiber production sectors, such as agriculture and fishery. Engagement of those sectors will be crucial to success.

Second, increasing and improving performance measurement and communication. We must improve our communication of how the investment (including time, money and other) of every citizen is making a difference, and if not, what will be done about it.

Third, improving the availability of resources. Significant financial commitments were made at CBD COP15 – they will now need to be met. Processes to disburse money need to be improved to ensure allocations to the areas in greatest need.”

Which other factors will affect the efforts to address biodiversity loss over the coming years?

“I am closely following the discussions taking place in climate on carbon taxes and border adjustments. It is evident that once such a structure is in place, there will be natural questions as to whether and how it should be replicated or extended to biodiversity issues. Perhaps this will create an incentive for the CBD community to ensure that the GBF and its implementation are as effective as possible, and therefore reducing the need for parallel mechanisms.”

The article represents the views of the interviewee and not necessarily those of CCICED.

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