Synergies and Trade-Offs in the effort to save our natural world: the Global Biodiversity Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Climate Action Goals

Namita Vanmali and Ian Little

An illustration of the multiple linkages and alignment between the EWTs programmes and the Global Biodiversity Framework targets, with the specifically climate change relevant links in bold green.

Climate change is now widely recognised as a key driver of biodiversity loss, and although they are inextricably linked, historical approaches to policies addressing biodiversity loss and climate change have often treated these challenges separately. This divergence traces back to the independent conventions established during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit—namely, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Over time, an increasing alignment of mechanisms within these frameworks and recognition of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity has allowed for better integration of strategies and enabled a more holistic approach to addressing these associated challenges. A significant milestone in this integration occurred recently at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, where specific sections were dedicated to oceans, forests, and agriculture for the first time. This cross-pollination of strategies is paramount in achieving the objectives of climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation. “Nature-based solutions” (NbS) have been put forward as a unifying mechanism for achieving conservation and climate goals, underscoring the importance of safeguarding both environmental and social interests. The IUCN defines NbS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature. They target major challenges like climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, biodiversity loss and human health, and are critical to sustainable economic development”.

The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF – 2022) provides a comprehensive roadmap for biodiversity conservation for the coming decade, outlining actions to halt biodiversity loss and promote sustainable ecosystem management. Comprising 23 action-oriented global targets to be achieved by 2030, it serves as a critical milestone on the journey toward overarching biodiversity conservation goals. Targets 1-8 focus on reducing threats to biodiversity, 9-13 emphasise meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit sharing, and targets 14-23 focus on providing tools and solutions necessary to implement the GBF effectively. By addressing threats to biodiversity and boosting ecosystem resilience, GBF Targets 1-8 strongly align with goals for climate change adaptation, with target eight specifically focussed on minimising the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. There is an emphasis on expanding protected areas, halting species losses and managing invasive species impacts using holistic climate strategies. GBF Targets 2, 10, 11, 15 and 16 all align with climate change adaptation goals by emphasising sustainable resource use, ecosystem restoration and improving ecosystem service provision. While GBF Targets 13-23 emphasise the integration of biodiversity considerations into various sectors, policies, and resource mobilisation efforts, which aligns with climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.

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Use Reference: Climate Action

An illustration of the multiple linkages and alignment between the EWTs programmes and the Global Biodiversity Framework targets, with the specifically climate change relevant links in bold green.

While there is obvious synergy between the targets of biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation, there can be misalignments and tensions between the two. Conflicting land use priorities may cause trade-offs between GBF Targets and climate goals. While GBF Targets 1, 2 and 3 concentrate on spatial planning and ecosystem restoration, achieving climate goals may require land for renewable energy infrastructure and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects requiring large-scale land use, which can and does conflict with biodiversity conservation efforts. The EWT has developed a number of resources to guide and streamline decision-making to minimise these biodiversity conflicts, and strongly supports renewable energy as opposed to the continued use and extraction of fossil fuels. Further, since climate action goals prioritise carbon sequestration to meet emission reduction goals, current reforestation and afforestation practices can negatively impact biodiversity if restored ecosystems serve climate mitigation instead of biodiversity conservation. Targets 8–13, which concentrate on sustainable resource use for people, can be at odds with critical Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Restricting access to resources in protected areas, for instance, may impede Poverty Reduction and Zero Hunger SDGs in some communities that rely on the land for agriculture or resource extraction. This conflict is also seen within the GBF targets 5 (Ensure the sustainable use and trade of wild species) and 9 (Protect & encourage customary sustainable use), where traditional use of wildlife resources is very often difficult to manage sustainably as a result of high demand for threatened resources and socio-economic pressures on rural communities.

While GBF Targets 14-23 theoretically align with implementation methods for climate change adaptation, challenges arise in practice where socio-economic pressures and needs conflict with conservation priorities and resource allocations. These challenges include potential competition for resource allocation, funding, land use and opposing interests within various sectors. Balancing short-term economic gains with long-term environmental benefits remains a complex and nuanced task. Integrated strategies that control possible conflicts are required to navigate these trade-offs successfully. The GBF targets and climate action goals both seek a just transition towards sustainability. However, misalignment between the GBF targets, climate adaptation, and SDGs often stems from divergent priorities between emission reduction, environmental preservation and broader development objectives.

Globally the financial cost of the transition to renewable energy dwarfs the funding required for biodiversity conservation. While it is imperative that the world prioritises a move away from reliance on fossil fuels, it is equally important that we recognise the parallel importance of conserving our biodiversity assets. The global narrative around the protection of our environment and commonly used terms like “Nature-based Solutions” should not allow the energy transition agenda to overshadow the biodiversity conservation crisis in terms of financial resource allocation and ongoing global dialogue