Major Environment Summits of 2022

Major Environment Summits of 2022

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VITAL Team
on 13.01.23

Governments of most of the world's countries have been meeting regularly since the 1990s to discuss challenges, opportunities and actions to protect our planet.

This year there were three key environmental summits. First the Ramsar Convention COP14 in China ended with the ratification of The Wuhan Declaration on Wetlands, then the UN Climate COP27 in Egypt ended with the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan and finally the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Montreal ended with the final agreement on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

The Venice lagoon is not yet part of the Ramsar Convention

The Wuhan Declaration on Wetlands (2022) calls for prioritisation of wetlands because of their capital relevance to climate and biodiversity goals. The Declaration recognises wetlands more explicitly in international agreements and pledges, moving beyond reference to ‘land and sea’ with explicit reference to “inland waters” (the official CBD term for wetlands) in the goals and targets. The Venice lagoon, however, is not yet part of the Ramsar Convention, except for the Valle Averto reserve, managed by WWF.

While the Ramsar COP14 was considered a relative success, the outcomes of the UN Climate COP27 in Egypt were widely judged a terrifying failure. Even though the agreement maintained the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, oil-producing countries and high emitters weakened and removed so many key commitments on emissions reductions and phasing out fossil fuels, the scientifically-verified drivers of global warming, that the goal has become meaningless. Lobbying by representatives of the oil and gas industry was relentless. At least an agreement for developed nations to help the world’s most vulnerable countries fund their disproportionate loss and damage due to the changing climate represents a breakthrough in what has been a contentious negotiation process. However there is still uncertainty on how exactly the fund will be implemented and delivered as rapidly as needed.

But climate and nature are necessarily part of a single conversation and while governments are still not able to extinguish dirty-fuels lobbies, negotiations on the future of biodiversity and our natural environment have led to remarkable outcomes. On 19 Dec. 2022, at  the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in Montreal, governments adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which sets out an ambitious plan to transform our societies’ relationship with biodiversity, including better protection for 30% of the planet and 30% of degraded ecosystems, by 2030 and to ensure that, by 2050, “the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled”. 

Traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity positively facilitates conservation, restoration and sustainable use of natural resources.

Environmental organisations welcome the explicit recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, roles, territories and knowledge as the most effective biodiversity protection. The GBF highlights that traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity is not in contrast with innovation and development pathways, rather it positively facilitates conservation, restoration and sustainable use of natural resources. In addition, the decision based on a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach” recognises the important role of subnational governments, cities and other local authorities in the implementation of the objectives of the CBD as well as in monitoring and reporting, resource mobilisation, education and public awareness, social participation and public access to information on biodiversity. 

The frameworks call for a more intimate and solid relationship between human societies and nature, referred to as “Mother Earth” in most of the decisions. To facilitate this, a “human rights-based approach” is proposed, acknowledging the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, following the landmark decision of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in July 2022. This has been advocated for years by different stakeholders and now that it has been internationally endorsed, it will  help reduce environmental injustices, close protection gaps and empower people worldwide. Moreover, developments in the legal rights of nature can create more comprehensive market boundaries and help achieve the new goal to protect 30% of earth’s nature by 2030.


In operational terms, the package includes: a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework setting goals and targets; a strategy on resource mobilisation to finance nature conservation; monitoring and reporting  frameworks to track countries’ progress; and measures to enhance capacity building. Target 12, in particular, highlights the quality and connectivity of green and blue spaces in urban and densely populated areas that needs to increase significantly. Urban planning must therefore become more biodiversity-inclusive, as reflected in the VITAL mission, bringing positive impacts also for human health and well-being.

Representatives of governments during a session during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 18, 2022. Source REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Business as usual is no longer an option

In target 8 nature-based solutions (NbS) are mentioned providing a strong and clear connection to the climate agenda as the same term was also included for the first time in a decision at COP27 – an important step forward, giving parties a remit to ensure NbS are not misused for greenwashing nor implemented as an alternative to drastic emissions cuts, but for both the future of the climate and of biodiversity. Moreover, through the adoption of target 15, backed by corporate initiatives such as MakeitMandatory, businesses and financial institutions will be required by governments to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature by 2030 (on this topic see our Vital team article of October 22). This is a strong signal that business as usual is no longer an option.

In order to allow a change of direction, targets were also introduced to make governments pay for and put resources into conservation efforts. Other targets aim to phase out or reform subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.  At least $200 billion per year from public and private sources for biodiversity-related funding is needed, as well as increasing international financial flows from developed to developing countries to at least US$ 30 billion per year.

Inland waters and coastal ecosystems have been included in the targets for restoration and conservation

To evaluate these results in the context of wetlands, Wetlands International strongly welcomes the inclusion of inland waters and coastal ecosystems in the targets for restoration and conservation as they have calculated that by 2030 we need to globally restore 350 million hectares of inland water and coastal ecosystems. The sole Venice lagoon amounts to 55.000 hectares - of which 70% of its characteristic biotype (saltmarshes) has been lost in the past century - a small fraction of the global target but still the biggest coastal lagoon in the Mediterranean basin. 


Moreover, the GBF is built around a theory of change which recognizes that urgent policy action is required globally and that the best pathways of change should be based on a form of adaptive management in order to correct the drivers of biodiversity loss to allow for the recovery of all ecosystems and to achieve the Convention’s vision of Living in Harmony with Nature by 2050. Specific to the case of Venice, challenges include extensive loss of salt marsh quality and quantity, ongoing erosion and large volumes of sediments exported to the sea. These problems are exacerbated by urbanisation, erosion from shipping and local water traffic and canal dredging. Unless we tackle the root causes of environmental degradation the goals of this historic biodiversity agreement will not be met.

The hard work starts now

Specific to the case of Venice, challenges include extensive loss of salt marsh quality and quantity, ongoing erosion and large volumes of sediments exported to the sea. These problems are exacerbated by urbanisation, erosion from shipping and local water traffic and canal dredging. Unless we tackle the root causes of environmental degradation the goals of this historic biodiversity agreement will not be met.

The hard work starts now with the translation of this landmark agreement into national plans and, consequently, an awakening of local government and lagoon-related authorities’ attention to implementation, signalling harmful drivers and proposing regenerative alternatives. As pointed out by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Kunming-Montreal GBF is ‘the floor, not a ceiling’ for global action to halt the biodiversity crisis.