COP15 and its impacts on Indigenous and environmental law
In December 2022, Montreal hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties (“COP15”) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity1 (“CBD”). The global meeting adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (“Kunming-Montreal Framework”),2 a non-binding agreement that sets historic goals and targets but leaves the means to achieve them in the hands of party states.
This article summarizes mechanisms in support of COP15 commitments from a Canadian perspective, and the means by which Canada can fulfill these commitments with respect, notably to Indigenous and environmental law.
The CBD, which came into force in 1993, is a legally binding international treaty concerned primarily with the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. The CBD is governed through the Conference of the Parties, which assembles the governments of all states that have ratified the CBD, 196 to date, including Canada.
In 2010, the Conference of the Parties adopted the 2011–2020 Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity based on 20 biodiversity targets (the “Aichi 2020 Targets”), which has driven a wide range of initiatives and approaches from Canada’s federal and provincial governments. In Québec, these initiatives led, amongst other things, to the creation of protected areas and the advancement of knowledge and sharing of information on biodiversity.3
As part of its obligations as a Contracting Party to the CBD,4 Canada adopted the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and its implementation framework under which, in 2015, federal, provincial and territorial government departments adopted the 2020 Biodiversity Goals and Targets for Canada,5 a set of non-binding commitments for governments, public agencies and private sector stakeholders.6
Also in its capacity as a Party to the CBD,7 in 2018 Canada produced its sixth8 national report on its progress meeting the 2020 Aichi targets.
Quebec has developed its own instruments to implement the CBD and to meet Aichi 2020 targets. It has also produced a report on its progress achieving these objectives.
To close COP15, the Contracting Parties to the CBD adopted a new global framework for taking action by 2030. The Kunming-Montreal Framework builds on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 by setting more ambitious targets for 2030 with a view to achieving the Parties’ shared vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050.9 The Kunming-Montreal Framework includes 23 targets, which Parties are responsible for immediately working toward and achieving by 2030.10
The targets identified fall into groupings: Reducing threats to biodiversity (1 to 8), Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing (9 to 13), and Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming (14 to 23).
A non-binding framework
Though non-binding, the Kunming-Montreal Framework calls on all stakeholders in society to take urgent action to foster transformative change in order to meet biodiversity goals.11
Beyond fulfilling its obligations to adopt national biodiversity strategies and action plans12 and produce national reports13 on progress implementing the CBD and its objectives, Canada is free to shape its own implementation approach, which could include legal, policy, or administrative mechanisms.14
The key measures in the Kunming-Montreal Framework, including the target of protecting 30% of land and oceans by 2030, and the target of restoring 30% of land and marine ecosystems by 2030—are highly ambitious commitments; to achieve them, governments will have to act to develop robust frameworks for meeting targets.
Recognizing the rights and contributions of Indigenous peoples
Implementing the Kunming-Montreal Framework will mean adopting appropriate measures at the state level, and must be informed by a recognition of the contributions and rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities as custodians of biodiversity. The Kunming-Montreal Framework specifically states that its implementation must “ensure their rights, knowledge, including traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity, innovations, worldviews, values and practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities are respected, documented, preserved with their free, prior and informed consent, including through their full and effective participation in decision making, in accordance with relevant national legislation, international instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and human rights law.”15
Concepts of traditional knowledge and practices and recognition of Indigenous and traditional lands are expressly referenced in several of the goals in the Kunming-Montreal Framework,16 an acknowledgement of the significant contribution of Indigenous peoples to biodiversity protection and conservation.
Some Federal and provincial measures announced in response to COP15
In recognition of the central role of Indigenous knowledge in achieving biodiversity protection goals, and in a spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada committed in December 2022 to supporting Indigenous leadership with contributions to ecosystem protection that include the launch of the new First Nations Guardians Network, which will foster a Nation-based model of self-determination for responsible land and marine stewardship of Indigenous lands.17
At COP15, the Government of Canada also announced $1 million in funding over four years to help the Lac Simon Anishnabe Nation Council in its efforts to propose a protected area project to the Québec government.18
Also at COP15, the Québec government announced $23 million in funding over four years to support Indigenous leadership in biodiversity conservation. The plan is designed to meet Kunming-Montreal Framework targets, including conservation of 30% of Quebec’s territory.19
A Canadian Biodiversity Act?
On December 19, 2022, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbault, promised that a federal bill to implement the Kunming-Montreal Framework was forthcoming in 2023.20
Certain non-governmental stakeholders have raised their voices to demand strong, binding legislation to safeguard nature and biodiversity. Greenpeace stressed that legislation must be “created in deep partnership with Indigenous peoples […] shift power away from big corporations to the communities most impacted by environmental degradation[…] and establish firm biodiversity protection targets that include public annual reports to ensure transparency and accountability.”21
The Kunming-Montreal Framework targets are part of a multi-pronged approach that encompasses a diverse range of actions. More extensive evaluation will be required from governments to assess whether federal and provincial legislation is adequate to meet the Framework’s 2030 targets to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity on the planet. Such an assessment could drive government policy, administrative measures and legislative actions to more effectively protect biodiversity.
Since many of the activities that heavily impact ecosystems fall under provincial jurisdiction, including agriculture, forestry, and natural resource development, efforts would be needed from all levels of government and all stakeholders, both private and public, to make sure COP15 2030 targets are met.
1 Convention on Biological Diversity, June 5, 1992, UNTC, vol. 1760, p.79 (December 29, 1993) [Online:]
< cbd-en.pdf > [Convention on Biological Diversity].
2 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, original English version, Fifteenth meeting – Part II CBD/COP/DEC/15/4 (Dec. 19 2022), [Online:] < Recommendation adopted by the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (cbd.int) >. [Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework]
3 Government of Québec, “Orientations gouvernementales en matière de diversité biologique” (in French), [Online:] < Orientations gouvernementales en matière de diversité biologique >.
4 Convention on Biological Diversity, art.6.
5 Government of Canada, “Convention on Biological Diversity,” [Online:] < Convention on Biological Diversity – Canada.ca >; Federal/Provincial/Territorial Biodiversity Working Group, “Canadian Biodiversity Goals and Targets for 2020,” [Online:] biodivcanada.ca < Canadian Biodiversity Goals and Targets for 2020 – biodivcanada.ca > [Canadian Goals and Targets].
6 Canadian Goals and Objectives.
7 Convention on Biological Diversity, art. 26.
8 Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2019. Summary of Canada’s 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Gatineau: Government of Canada. [Online:] < EN_Report+Summary+Canada+a+CDB_Final.pdf (squarespace.com) >.
9 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 3 and 28.
10 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 31.
11 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 2.
12 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 34(a).
13 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 34(b).
14 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, arts. 3, 10, 11 and 31.
15 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework, Fifteenth meeting – Part II, CBD/COP/15/L.25 (Dec. 18, 2022) [draft decision] [Online:] < Recommendation adopted by the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (cbd.int) >, art. 8.
16 Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, art. 19, 22, 31; Target 1, Target 3, Target 5, Target 9, Target 13, Target 21, Target 22, and 40a).
17 Environment and Climate Change Canada, News Release, “Launch of the New First Nations Guardian Network”, (December 9, 2022) [Online:] < Launch of the New First Nations Guardian Network – Canada.ca >.
18 Martin Guindon, “Ottawa soutient financièrement Lac-Simon dans son projet d’aire protégée,”Radio-Canada [ICI Abitibi-Témiscamingue] (December 9, 2022) [Online:] < Ottawa soutient financièrement Lac-Simon dans son projet d’aire protégée | COP15 | Radio-Canada.ca >.
19 Office of the Minister of Environment, the Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks, News Release, “Nature 2030 Plan – Quebec Plans Historic $23M Investment to Support Aboriginal Biodiversity Initiatives” (December 10, 2022), [Online:] < Plan Nature 2030 – Québec prévoit un investissement historique de 23 M$ pour soutenir les initiatives autochtones en matière de biodiversité Gouvernement du Québec (quebec.ca) >
20 The Canadian Press and Stéphane Blais, “Après l’Accord à la COP15, Ottawa doit maintenant travailler avec les provinces,” Le Devoir, December 19, 2022. [Online:] < Après l’accord à la COP15, Ottawa doit maintenant travailler avec les provinces | Le Devoir >.
21 Greenpeace Canada, “Call on Canada to Pass Strong Nature Protection Laws,” [Online:] < Call on Canada to Pass Strong Nature Protection Laws – Greenpeace Canada >.