Professor Robert Costanza
10 January 2023
The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) created at the recent COP15 in Montreal, Canada is a historic and critically important international agreement. It includes 4 major goals and 23 targets, that would, if achieved, halt the global loss of biodiversity, and restore ecosystems and the valuable services they provide. The GBF, would, by 2030: protect 30% of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters, as well as reduce harmful government subsidies by $500 billion annually and cut food waste in half.
The 2050 GBF goals include:
A. Maintain, enhance, and restore natural ecosystems and halt species extinction
B. Value, maintain, restore, and enhance biodiversity, ecosystem functions, and ecosystem services
C. Share the benefits of resources from nature fairly and equally and protect indigenous peoples' rights
D. Secure adequate means of implementation and fair distribution of benefits
These broad goals are supported by 23 detailed targets that specify pathways toward achieving them.
For example, target 3 specifies that “by 2030 at least 30 per cent of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures”
Target 19 includes: “Leveraging private finance, promoting blended finance, implementing strategies for raising new and additional resources, and encouraging the private sector to invest in biodiversity, including through impact funds and other instruments”
Target 23 aims to “Ensure gender equality in the implementation of the framework through a gender-responsive approach where all women and girls have equal opportunity and capacity to contribute to the three objectives of the Convention”
The GBF includes everything humanity urgently needs to protect, maintain, and restore biodiversity and the ecological life support systems and services we all depend on. It recognizes the interdependence of humans and the rest of nature and the need to adequately value ecosystems and the benefits they provide if we hope to create a sustainable and desirable future.
However, achieving the goals of the GBF will require a major transformation of the economic and political context within which we all operate. Like the Paris climate agreement and other international environmental agreements, it will struggle to gain sufficient traction in the context of the current ‘GDP growth at all costs’ economic and political paradigm.
The transformation we need requires a major change in societal goals away from growth. We need to transform to broader wellbeing goals within which the GBF goals are obvious, uncontroversial, and seen as contributing to the larger wellbeing goals.
The problem is that we have known about the looming environmental crises for decades and this is not the first set of ambitious goals that have been elaborated to address it. Why, then, have we still not made sufficient progress?
One way to understand this lack of progress is as a societal addiction to the current system. Like a drug addiction, the positive short-term reinforcements to current behaviours prevent acknowledgement of the addiction and thwart efforts to escape it. In addition, like a drug addiction, simply pointing out the dire long-term consequences is often counterproductive toward changing behaviour.
What we need is societal therapy to overcome our addiction to the growth at all costs paradigm.
By analogy with Motivational Interviewing, used by psychiatrists at the individual level to overcome addictions, the therapy starts with building a shared vision of the kind of world we really want - a sustainable wellbeing future. We need to envision and communicate the economic and political context within which the GBF goals can be achieved. We need to demonstrate to the broader human population that within that world humanity and the rest of nature can flourish together.
The full range of decision-makers need to see the benefits of achieving the GBF goals and targets in the context of this better world. Within the current economic paradigm, there is little chance that the GBF goals can be achieved. It is like an addict setting goals to cut back or stop using, but not changing the context of interactions in the world that led to the addiction in the first place. No change in behaviour, or temporary change with a relapse, is likely.
The GBF, like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, are excellent steps toward building a shared vision, as well as creating the changes necessary to achieve it. But we are still addicted to an economic and political paradigm that prevents them from coming to full fruition.
However, there is hope and transformational change is happening at many levels. For example, a few vanguard Wellbeing Economy Governments (including Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Wales, and Canada) recognize the need to shift from GDP growth to inclusive and sustainable wellbeing. There is also a growing Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) working to build the broad movement that will be needed to shift societal goals and overcome our addiction to growth. The current system is locked in and it has been (and will continue to be) hard to change. But recovery is possible with the right therapy, which is already underway.
Robert Costanza is Professor of Ecological Economics at the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). Professor Costanza is a global pioneer of transdisciplinary research at the complex intersection of dynamic human economic and social systems and stressed ecosystems that is informing new models of, and pathways to, sustainable prosperity. He is co-founder of the International Society for Ecological Economics and was founding chief editor of the society's Ecological Economics journal.
Photo: Eelco Böhtlingk on Unsplash
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