Time is due in mainstreaming biodiversity to all human activities and all economic sectors in order to secure it in a sustainable manner. This was the message given by His Excellency, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt when he officially opened the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Sharm El Sheikh on 17th to 29th November 2018.

The conference ran three concurrent meetings; the fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, COP-14), the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CP-MOP-9), and the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (NP-MOP-3).

Dr. Christiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity observed that since the convention came to force 25 years ago, meaningful progress has been achieved in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. “The annual rate of net forest loss has been halved over the past 10 years, global protected areas have increased to 13 per cent of coastal and marine areas and 15 per cent of terrestrial areas, and the number of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture secured in conservation facilities has risen,” she stated. Dr. Palmer, however, emphasized that these successes are not enough to halt the ongoing loss of plant and animal diversity on earth, now facing a fundamental worldwide extinction crisis that is deepening every year and severely impacted by climate change.  She therefore urged all governments to gear up efforts in safeguarding all life on earth.

Prior to the CBD negotiations, an African Ministerial Summit with representation from more than 30 countries was held. This summit resulted in two positive outcomes; the African Ministerial Declaration on Biodiversity and the Pan African Action Agenda on Ecosystem Restoration and Resilience. In addition, a high-level segment meeting with the theme “Investing in People and the Planet” and a Business and Biodiversity Forum served to build momentum for the conference.

New topics cutting across COP-14, Cartagena and the Nagoya protocol took centerstage both in the meetings and in the corridors. Particularly, synthetic biology, gene drive technology, and digital sequence information (DSI) on genetic resources were the most debated. Parties to the convention took positions on these topics, with decision for further studies and discussions under a number of Ad Hoc Technical Expert Groups (AHTEG) adopted. Voluntary guidelines were also adopted on the design and effective implementation of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, as well as repatriation of traditional knowledge and integration of protected areas.

High commendations were given to African countries attending the conference. The African Group exhibited great coordination in presenting positions to the conference agenda. Every morning prior to discussions, parties representing African countries met to deliberate on substantive agenda items of COP-14 and the MOPs, seeking common positions while acknowledging needs unique to countries. The presented draft on African Ministerial Declaration contains the commitment of the African Union (AU) Member States to synergize implementation of the Pan-African Action with the AU Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. It follows up after 2020, the CBD Short-Term Action Plan on Ecosystem Restoration and with development and implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, Land Degradation Neutrality Targets, National Adaptation Plans, and Nationally Determined Contributions.

After two weeks of deliberations and multilateral negotiations, the conference closed on 29th November with a broad international agreement on reversing the global destruction of nature and biodiversity loss threatening all forms of life on Earth. To combat this crisis, governments agreed to accelerate action to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed in 2010, from now until 2020. The meeting also agreed on a comprehensive and participatory process for developing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework anticipated to be agreed upon at the next Conference of Parties (COP 15) in Beijing in 2020. The framework aims to safeguard nature and biodiversity for decades to come.

Dr. Karembu is the Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter. She also serves as the chair of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), Kenya Chapter. You can reach her on mkarembu@isaaa.org.