How we’ve influenced a global peace-pact with nature

22 February 2023 | By: Prof Philip McGowan | 4 min read
Parrots flying in a jungle

In December 2022, the world gathered to agree the new Global Biodiversity Framework, our peace-pact with nature, set to last for the next decade.

And, with over 40,000 species at risk of extinction as documented by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this deal has a lot to deliver if we are to save the natural world.

Newcastle University’s Professor of Conservation Science and Policy, Philip McGowan attended the UN Biodiversity Conference (CoP15), where this critical Framework was agreed.

Professor McGowan discusses how his research impacted the talks and what the future holds for nature.


In the early hours of 19 December 2022 agreement was reached on a ‘historic deal for nature’.

It has taken four years to negotiate this Framework and agreement was not certain until the very end.

Four goals and 23 targets formed this ‘landmark’ promise, between nations, to change our relationship with our environment.

What progress did the last Global Biodiversity Framework make?

Newcastle University research informed two United Nation reports reviewing the progress of the previous Framework. Our work also gave clear guidance for the future.

We provided assessments and indicators for status of wild relatives of domesticated livestock and for numbers of birds and mammals that have avoided extinction because of conservation action.

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services produced a global assessment. It made clear just how much biodiversity was deteriorating, extrapolating from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species documentation of over 40,000 species being threatened with extinction to project that up to one million species may be threatened in total.

In 2020, the Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that none of the 20 targets that made up its decade-long strategic plan for 2011-2020 had been achieved.

So, the take home was that the state of biodiversity is getting worse and globally agreed conservation efforts were not being implemented at sufficient pace and scale. But, and more optimistically, the reports also showed where targeted conservation actions are implemented, it is possible to turn around the extinction tide.

What happened while you were at COP15? 

At the start of the two week CoP15 in Montreal, Canada the UN Secretary- General made a powerful opening address saying that “We are waging a war on nature”, “Ecosystems have become playthings of profit.” and we need “a peace pact with nature”.

The outcome of the negotiations was unclear right up to the very end, with some countries objecting to aspects of the deal, indicating some real tensions and concerns about equity – in essence, who pays for, and who benefits from, the deal.

In the end though, consensus was reached and the ‘Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’ was adopted.

How has your team’s research impacted the new Framework?

We’ve been working hard to inform key reports and outcomes when it comes to the global approach of managing nature and maintaining a healthy planet, through Chairing the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Post-2020 Taskforce. Our research recommended that ‘targeted recovery actions’ were included in the Framework, as many species need specific support to their needs, not generic policies.

What are targeted recovery actions?   

Targeted recovery actions include:

  • captive breeding in zoos or botanical gardens
  • reintroduction into the wild
  • vaccination against disease
  • and other species-specific interventions

During CoP15, our work was mentioned in negotiations to emphasise the focus for Target 4, which stresses the need for urgent management actions to halt human induced extinction of threatened species. The Species Threat Abatement and Restoration metric (STAR), of which we led the development along with IUCN and many other organisations, was also given considerable attention in a wide range of events from engaging academia to integrating finance and biodiversity.

STAR was used to demonstrate the power of academic-led research collaborations with a wide range of sectors to tackle policy needs. And, it is an important first step in providing a quantifiable approach to assessing the impact on threatened species of a wide range of business and finance decisions.  

What was agreed?

The new Framework is big and huge in scope.

Comprising more than 5,000 words across 11 pages it outlines a series of underlying considerations, such as:

  • contribution and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities
  • different value systems
  • whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach
  • inter-generational equity

The four outcome Goals need to be achieved by 2050 and, 23 action Targets to be implemented by 2030.

The scope is vast, ranging from:

  • the status of biodiversity and how to reduce pressures on it
  • to targets for increasing and aligning financial flows to support biodiversity
  • increasing the disclosure by business of their impacts on biodiversity
  • sustainable consumption choices
  • ensuring that benefits are shared equitably

Whilst many will have wanted to see stronger words and more ambition, there is little doubt that if the 23 Targets are achieved by their 2030 deadline, pressures on nature will be reduced markedly, paving the way for restoring biodiversity by 2050.

Alongside this framework, other key decisions on a long-term capacity building strategy, resources and monitoring made up a ‘package’ that it is hoped will provide the means for delivering the framework and monitoring progress.

Global Biodiversity Framework Goals and Targets - at a glance

Global Goals for 2050

  1. Conservation of biodiversity (ecosystems, species, genetic diversity)
  2. Sustainable use and nature’s contributions to people
  3. Benefits from the utilization of genetic resources
  4. Means of implementation

Global Targets for 2030

Three sets of targets

  1. Reducing threats to biodiversity (8 targets)
  2. Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing (5 targets)
  3. Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming (10 targets)

What’s next?

The Framework is global, with nearly 200 countries agreeing to it, but action is now needed nationally to tackle the issues outlined in the Targets and to achieve the outcomes stated in the Goals.

How well equipped are countries to make progress, especially in the eight year timescale of the 2030 Targets? Given the framework’s complexity, what are the challenges for implementation?

It is very important that we learn the lessons from a decade ago, when the last decade-long plan was adopted. For example, we need meaningful indicators against which we can report progress as soon as possible. We have some, as the initial monitoring framework shows, but there is much to do and quickly, if we are to measure progress reliably. It is also vital that pressures on biodiversity, and their underlying drivers are reduced and this means engaging with business and finance sectors throughout all stages of implementation.

It is particularly important that researchers engage to fill knowledge gaps, provide insights into where interventions could make the biggest difference and help with monitoring and reporting. There is much to do and policy-orientated researchers have much to offer.

An area that Newcastle University will continue to work on is the STAR metric that has potential to inform which actions could have the biggest impact on conserving species, and where they should be targeted.

STAR is being explored in various contexts, from landscape restoration projects to financial and business sectors and offers possibilities to guide actions to mitigate significant threats and guide financial and business decisions to reduce impacts on biodiversity. To help advance this, we Co-Chair the IUCN committee dedicated to the science, policy, and practice of the STAR metric.

Can we restore biodiversity by 2050?

The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Vision is of a world where we are “Living in Harmony with Nature” by 2050.

We do know what needs to done to reduce the pressures on biodiversity and begin to restore species and ecosystems.

The success of conservation in avoiding extinctions has made clear that for action can be tailored to where it is most needed. Therefore, the answer to the question has to be yes, if the political will is there. We can, and it is up to us if we will.

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