The UN Biodiversity Conference is the regular meeting of the countries that have signed (and are therefore ‘parties to’) the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the international agreement for conserving biodiversity (the full and complex diversity of life on Earth). Its vision is for humans to live “in harmony with nature by 2050”.

The Convention was adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and with 196 Parties it has near universal participation among countries (the United States is notably absent). Under the Convention, each Party is required to set national biodiversity strategies and action plans detailing how the principles of the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources will be integrated into their country’s national policies.

As well as requiring Parties to set national targets, the Convention sets global targets for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Its Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 set out the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which were replaced in 2022 by targets set for 2030 and 2050 within the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

International governments meet and review progress on the Convention and establish new measures needed to support its goals through a governing body called the ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COP. (Note that this is completely separate from the ‘climate’ COP process run by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.) The first meeting of the COP, known as COP1, took place in 1994 in the Bahamas. The latest, COP15, was held in 2022, and the next is scheduled for October–November 2024 in Colombia.

Why are the Biodiversity Conference and Convention needed?

Human activity is driving changes and declines to biodiversity globally, the greatest direct causes being changes in the use of land, terrestrial water sources and the ocean, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasion of alien species. These are indirectly reinforced by societal values and behaviours, including consumption patterns, which lead us to overuse the Earth’s biocapacity – the capacity of Earth’s ecosystems to regenerate resources people demand – by at least 56%, according to one report.

The scale of risk posed to interconnected natural and human systems by biodiversity decline requires international, coordinated action. As communities and economies are built on and are dependent on natural resources, the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity encompass social and economic aspects: (i) the conservation of biological diversity; (ii) the sustainable use of its components; and (iii) the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of biological diversity.

Meeting the biodiversity goals of the Convention also contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. In 2021, COP26 – the UN climate change conference, that year held in Glasgow – marked the first time that biodiversity and climate change were linked at an international level in such a forum. Climate change is expected to become an increasingly important driver of biodiversity loss, and it will be increasingly challenging to protect nature and biodiversity if global warming is not limited in line with the Paris Agreement targets. The loss of biodiversity will also make it more difficult to meet the Paris climate goals as healthy ecosystems, especially forests and oceans, regulate the climate, while ecosystem degradation or removal (e.g. deforestation) emits carbon into the atmosphere. The majority of UN Sustainable Development Goals also depend on biodiversity.

Has action taken under the Convention helped biodiversity?

Since the establishment of the Convention on Biological Diversity, damage to ecosystems has continued and accelerated, and as many as one million species are threatened with extinction over the coming decades to centuries. None of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets for 2020 were achieved globally, with just six were “partially achieved”, according to the CBD Secretariat’s 2020 progress report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. The report further detailed that on average, one-third (34%) of all national targets set by countries were on track to be met, 3% were expected to be exceeded, and for half (51%), progress was being made but not at a rate sufficient to meet targets.

As of February 2024, 99% of the Parties to the Convention had developed at least one national action plan, but how far they align with aspects of the Convention varies, and achieving successful implementation remains a challenge.

There has been progress in some aspects of conservation, however, including: the incorporation of biodiversity values into national accounting systems; a decline in the rate of deforestation globally of about one-third in 2020 compared with the previous decade; the expansion of protected terrestrial and marine areas and areas of particular importance for biodiversity; an increase in available data and information on biodiversity; and a doubling of financial resources available for biodiversity through international flows, though these are still considered insufficient.

Supplementary agreements have also been adopted at the conferences, including the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on managing the movement of living modified organisms from one country to another; and the 2010 Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing, which aims to ensure that the benefits of genetic resources (living organisms with perceived value) are managed or distributed in a fair and equitable way.

What does the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework say?

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was agreed at COP15, which took place in December 2022 (two years later than planned following COVID-19-related delays). The Framework builds on the 2011–2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, with the aim of implementing “broad-based action to bring about a transformation in our societies’ relationship with biodiversity by 2030… and ensur[ing] that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled”.

The Framework has four long-term goals to 2050: 1) ‘Protect and restore’; 2) ‘Prosper with nature’; 3) ‘Share benefits fairly’; and 4) ‘Invest and collaborate’. These encompass the “integrity, connectivity and resilience” of all ecosystems; sustainable use and management and nature’s contributions to people; monetary and non-monetary benefits (e.g. from the utilisation of genetic resources and traditional knowledge); and the means of implementation, from financial resources to capacity-building and technology transfer.

The Framework also contains 22 targets to 2030, divided among three categories: 1) ‘Reducing threats to biodiversity’ (e.g. expanding protected areas to at least 30% of the world’s land, water and sea cover); 2) ‘Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing’ (e.g. enhancing biodiversity and sustainability in agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry); and 3) ‘Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming’ (e.g. reducing harmful incentives by at least US$500 billion per year and scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity).

To scale up financing for the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF) was operationalised by the GBFF Council in February 2024, with Canada, Germany, Japan, Spain and the UK pledging a total of US$219 million to support the fund at that point.

What will be the focus at COP16?

COP16 will be held in Colombia from 21 October–1 November 2024. It will review the state of implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, and countries will be expected to show how their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans align with the framework.

This Explainer was written by Natalie Pearson, Samritee Kumari and Georgina Kyriacou.

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