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Debates and discussions at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, as witnessed by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The MSC attended the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP-15) in Canada where a ground breaking deal, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, was developed to halt and reverse alarming declines in the world’s biodiversity.

The outcome was the result of a painstaking negotiating process by the representatives of nearly 200 nations -- often line by line editing and re-editing -- but agreement was reached just as the conference was expected to conclude.

Here’s what was discussed and debated from the perspective of sustainable fishing, scientists, fisheries and the MSC.

The director's perspective

Kurtis Hayne, MSC Program Director, Canada

Government delegates met in Montreal to negotiate the post-2020 Global Diversity Framework and build a plan to reverse biodiversity loss and protect nature. In my meetings with some of the many scientists, industry representatives, non-profit organisations and other observers, there was universal agreement that urgent action is needed.

Afterall, the conference took place against a backdrop of continuing biodiversity loss and nearly three years after the conclusion of the framework’s predecessor, the Aichi targets, for which none of the twenty targets (which should have been achieved by 2020) were completely met. The process of negotiating the framework and targets, almost word-by-word, seemed at times to be at odds with this urgency – though it is understandable when you realise these documents are built upon consensus across participating countries.

Diverse participants also brought diverse interests and priorities sought from the framework: Protected areas, invasive species, agriculture, endangered species, habitat restoration, plastics, pollution, forestry and fisheries, to name a few. Despite some disagreement between whether preservation or conservation is the way forward, the overarching goals of the framework should ensure that both sustainable use and protection play important roles in supporting life on Earth while conserving biodiversity.

This framework does not have a target wholly focused on sustainable fisheries, unlike its predecessor, but this does not mean that fisheries do not play a prominent role. The indicators for targets five and nine include sustainable fisheries and MSC certification as measures of success. Reporting against these indicators will reflect the way more specific sectors “fit” into this framework. Credit should be given to fisheries that have invested in MSC certification, that fish sustainably, and further incentivise improvement.

These indicators are essential to ensuring we are collectively successful in protecting biodiversity. Without a way to effectively measure and incentivise progress we cannot hope to make sufficient progress at national and international levels.

While the sustainability of fisheries is relatively well monitored through the work of the UNFAO, national governments and through MSC certification, other sectors such as forestry, agriculture and other wildlife trade will need to invest further in monitoring against the targets and indicators. If we hope to be successful in achieving the framework goals, we need greater investment in conservation, better collaboration among nations and collective accountability against ambitious targets.

The scientist’s perspective:

Beth Polidoro, MSC Research Director

With hundreds of official meetings, side-events, pavilion expositions, and off-site events, navigating schedules and connecting with new and old colleagues was exhilarating but also dizzying and overwhelming.

However, several key issues emerged. Ocean biodiversity conservation was underwhelmingly represented in the many events, and where it was, there were often conflicting perspectives on the relative importance of sustainable use versus place-based protection in the new global biodiversity framework.

In several of the official working group sessions that met throughout the week, the GBF text itself was being painfully edited and re-edited by official party delegates. It was an agonisingly slow process, so much so that, a press conference was held in the afternoon of December 13, along with a letter signed by more than 3,000 concerned citizens from around the globe urging the working groups to come to a consensus.

This biennial event had been delayed for two years because of the Covid pandemic and it allowed for long overdue one-to-one conversations with dozens of new and old colleagues from organisations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and The Nature Conservancy, among others.

While the agreement on a biodiversity framework dominated the headlines, it’s important not to forget that innovation comes through the sharing of best practice and research.

With the IUCN, we discussed the importance of MSC collaboration with both the Species Survival Commission, a science-based network of thousands of volunteer experts from nearly every country in the world, and the Committee on Ecosystem Management on research, communication and policy initiatives related to climate change, bycatch and other key issues.

We also outlined several potential joint research projects related to addressing critical challenges in sustainable fisheries with the FAO. In several discussions with GEF, we discussed how we could work better together to provide funding for pathway and in-transition to MSC projects in key countries. The Global Reporting Initiative, which sets global sustainability reporting standards, expressed interest in consulting with the MSC to better integrate data and perspectives into industry reporting on ocean sustainability activities and environmental, social and governance metrics. 

These meetings were as important as the framework itself and the MSC is highly respected by conservationists, government agencies and industries across the globe. As such, it has a unique role and responsibility to play in participating in the dialogue and action to address the interaction among sustainable use, food security and global biodiversity conservation.

The fishery perspective

Jay Lugar, MSC Head of Fisheries Outreach

The MSC’s goal to increase the profile of ocean and fishery dialogues at the conference was warmly received. It’s even better news that the framework has recognised certification to the Marine Stewardship Council’s global Standards for sustainable seafood and Chain of Custody as ways to measure efforts to reverse declines in the world’s biodiversity.   

Ocean biodiversity did not receive the attention that land-based issues did. The few other active ocean voices at the meeting were mainly focused on marine protected areas. Large NGOs placed ocean issues within their portfolio

Nevertheless, we heard some delegates favoured no specific mention of “fisheries” in the framework, which we believe stems from the underlying “preservation or conservation” dichotomy.  Goal B in the Global Biodiversity Framework highlights “sustainable use”, which is crucial for fisheries and the MSC.

As with many organisations, one of the key takeaways was to build relationships with other organisations and voices that matter in biodiversity dialogues to further this important work.

We are connected to lead Convention of Biodiversity Framework staffers for marine issues, national representatives, the UN FAO on biodiversity, global funding and salient NGOs. We sense a level of support across the field and this will ensure the MSC continues to influence the dialogue and narrative.