Decoding alphabet soup reveals a historical achievement in global conservation

Dr Gabi Teren, EWT National Biodiversity and Business Network, Programme Manager


On December 19, The UN CBD COP-15 adopted the Post-2020 GBF with the key 30×30 target for NBSAPs.

Scientists love talking in acronyms or alphabet soup. Let me unpack this for you by describing a recent momentous conservation achievement. The UN CBD – The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), ratified by 196 nations in 1992, encourages actions that will lead to a sustainable future, including:

“the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources”

COP15 Business and Biodiversity Forum plenary session

Every few years, the 196 countries party to the convention (including South Africa, but notably not the USA) meet at a Conference of the Parties (COP). The COP27, the 27th meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) parties, was held in November in Sharm el-Shaikh. COP15 was subsequently held in Montreal, Canada. You may be thinking someone really can’t do arithmetic, but there are different conventions that focus on different aspects of environmental action. The former COP (27) was the annual UN Climate Change Conference that advances global climate talks, mobilises action, and provides opportunities to look at the impacts of climate change and potential innovation and solutions in Africa.

COP15, on the other hand, united parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to review and sign into the Post-2020 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). This was essentially equivalent to the famed Paris Agreement signed by the UNFCCC, which is THE international agreement to try and keep the rise in mean global temperature below 1.5 °C to help countries adapt to the disastrous effects of climate change.

The GBF is trying to help the world adapt to the disastrous effects of extinction and biodiversity loss.

“ An average of around 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss. Without such action, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The biosphere, upon which humanity as a whole depends, is being altered to an unparalleled degree across all spatial scales. Biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history.

Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while other global societal goals are simultaneously met through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.” GBF page 4.

The framework sets out four global goals and 23 targets. Target 3 is particularly important. Known as the 30×30 target, it sets out to ensure that by 2030, 30% of all land and water on Earth are effectively conserved and managed. To put that in perspective, despite being the third most biodiverse country on the planet, only 9.2% of South Africa’s mainland is formally protected[1] (although that doesn’t include other effective conservation areas). It is also an important target as it is quantified with a timeline. The quantification of some of the global goals got watered down in the final version to words like ‘significant’, which are vague and don’t promote action.

So how do countries now meet these targets? Or show progress towards meeting them? National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) are the principal instruments of implementing the CBD at a national level and provide for integrating conservation and sustainable use into national decision-making policy. Of the 196 parties to the convention, 185 have developed NBSAPs. You can access all of them, including South Africa’s, at So now South Africa and all the other parties must immediately begin to revise their existing NBSAPs to implement the GBF and show progress at COP16, to be held in the latter half of 2024. While this doesn’t give us much time, the EWT is working hard to contribute to the process so that we can measurably address biodiversity loss on the ground.

Dr Gabi Teren, the EWT’s National Biodiversity and Business Network Manager

EWT programmes like the National Biodiversity and Business Network are already working to accelerate meaningful dialogues around the business-centred targets, which aim to address the private sector’s role in destroying nature and to equip people to make responsible and sustainable choices. We had a large presence in Montreal, where I, as the Manager of the NBBN, was the MC of the B&B… sorry, the Master of Ceremonies of the official UN Business and Biodiversity Forum. It was an incredible privilege to give the opening speech to hundreds of business leaders, policymakers, and conservationists and introduce renowned global thinkers like the economist Jeffrey Sacchs and Hank Paulson, the ex-US Secretary of the Treasury, and high-profile CEOs and ministers. I spoke about Ubuntu and how the world needs to come together more than ever in the spirit of ‘I am because we are’. Covid taught us that in a crisis, we can mobilise entire nations overnight and disrupt entire value chains within days to go from making gin to hand sanitiser, and in the face of our planetary crisis, the biggest disaster humanity faces, we need to do more. You can view my impassioned speech and those of all the keynote speakers here (really worth a listen!).

The EWT also partnered with DFFE (Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment) at an official side event, which we were lucky to get as hundreds of applications could not be accommodated. Supported by UNDP (UN Development Programme), BirdLife International, and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). At this event, we spoke about the importance of collaborations between private-public-NGO bodies and how South Africa has some incredible success stories from such collaborations, such as the National EIA Screening Tool developed by SANBI, the EWT, – the world’s first biodiversity accounting framework for businesses to measure and disclose their footprints, which was proudly developed by the EWT with funding from Eskom. The audience’s reactions showed how these collaboration demonstrations could inspire action.

In a Post-2020 world, we need to work together to live more harmoniously with nature. Watch this space as we build that action to conserve our world with your help. In follow-up articles, I will unpack some key targets and how we plan to achieve them. Follow our socials here for more.


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