COP15 decision, dubbed ’30 by 30 target’ hailed by many as landmark in which countries around the world are required to protect 30% of their lands, oceans, coastal areas, inland waters for conservation; reduce by $500 billion annual harmful government subsidies; and cut food waste in half by 2030 among others was arrived at through a sometimes fractious two-week negotiation in an effort to address the dangerous loss of biodiversity and restore natural ecosystems. Africa Group of Negotiators comprised of Parties from Africa, to the most extent forged a common approach and had common positions at Plenary, Working Groups, as well as Friends of the Chair discussions from which the “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF), including four goals and 23 targets for achievement by 2030 was adopted. 

While this decision is by far a culmination of more than 4 years of negotiations, amid climate change realities characterized by endemic and invasive pests and diseases, erratic and unpredictable weather patterns occasioning massive crop failure while the population continues to rise sharply, it is the manner in which the decision was made that drew sharp reactions.  A number of African countries notably DRC Congo, Cameroun and Uganda were seen not to be satisfied in the manner this decision was arrived at and expressed the incredulity, sentiments that were shared albeit in hushed tones by many African Parties. It was widely hoped by countries in the global south such as Brazil, Indonesia and DRC Congo, who are part of the mega diverse countries that a new biodiversity fund would be created to cater for the conservation targets amid the aforementioned realities. 

Precisely, the above described turn of events, among others, is the reasoning behind coordination of the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN).  This time, the coordination was spearheaded by Africa Union Development Agency- New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA- NEPAD), to help parties familiarize with the key topics up for discussion at COP15/COP-MOP10, but also forge common positions and assign lead negotiators for various items during the meetings. ISAAA AfriCenter has also been involved in the preparatory activities, this time with more focus on young scientists, communicators, and aspiring future scientist under the Academia and Research group to inculcate in them the awareness of their unique role as custodians of biodiversity. Additionally, ISAAA AfriCenter actively participated in the Africa Group’s preparatory meetings, to clarify technical aspects that would require factual guidance, especially on Target 17. In so doing, the Africa Group was instrumental in the eventual progressive amendment to Target 17, which was among the 23 targets adopted by COP15 for achievement by 2030.

This kind of organization received commendation from Party delegates from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Sudan who attended an ISAAA AfriCenter organized dialogue in the auspices of COP-MOP10, to discuss Africa’s experience with domestication of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) and its role in delivery of safe LMOs for attainment of SDGs. The topic would offer an opportunity for information exchange between parties and non-parties on key deliberations at COP-MOP 10, particularly Target 17, in view of Africa’s unique challenges and needs. Target 17 of the First Draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) reading “Establish, strengthen capacity for, and implement measures in all countries to prevent, manage or control potential adverse impacts of biotechnology on biodiversity and human health, reducing the risk of these impacts” prior to COP15 addresses biosafety.

The four African countries’ parties outlined their journeys towards the domestication of CPB, and compliance with CBD’s Article 8 (g), saying that the continent has the appropriate legal regime for application of LMOs in agriculture, to provide maximum benefits while safeguarding the health of the consumer and the environment. The Parties’ represented by Dr. Roy Mugiira (Kenya), Dr. Lilian Chimphepo (Malawi), Mrs. Nazik Dafalla (Sudan) and Mr. Eric Okoree (Ghana) delved into a raft of issues up for discussion at COP-MOP10 and their perspective as Africa Group of Negotiators, including on Target 17. The discussions at the side event observed that for biotechnology, Target 17 should convey what is stated in article 16 of the CBD, i.e. that access to and the transfer of biotechnology is essential to objectives of the CBD, and that Target 17 should encourage the development of biotechnology to contribute to the SDGs.  The discussions pointed out to the need for the GBF to be consistent with the CBD and the CPB. Specifically, the panel discussion observed that for biosafety, Target 17 of the GBF should focus on “LMOs” and not on biotechnology in general.

In the end, due to efforts of parties like Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Sudan with the inputs of non-parties through such activities like the ISAAA AfriCenter organized side event, COP-MOP10 adopted changes to Target 17 of the GBF to read,  “Establish, strengthen capacity for, and implement in all countries in biosafety measures as set out in Article 8(g) of the Convention on Biological Diversity and measures for the handling of biotechnology and distribution of its benefits as set out in Article 19 of the Convention.”

Notably and with a lot of appreciation, ISAAA AfriCenter also forged a partnership dubbed Biodiversity Innovation Coalition (BIC) with like-minded institutions, namely ISAAA-Asia, the Alliance for Science, the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI), Youth Biotech among others. The working partnership in the BIC would enable synergy in engagements during COP-MOP 10, and future meetings of the parties, to promote coherent innovation for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This would be anchored on the recognition reflected in article 16 of the CBD and in the draft Post 2020 GBF that technical and scientific cooperation, technology transfer and innovation are crucial for attainment of the objectives of the convention.