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Youth Must Not be an Afterthought in the Forthcoming Global Biodiversity Framework

By Esther Maina, GYBN Kenya

1 September 2022 | Article 3, GYBN Newsletter Vol. 1(1)

Representatives of the 196 parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) met in Nairobi, Kenya from the 21st to 26th of June, 2022 for the fourth Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG4) meeting to continue negotiating on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Few agreements were reached on the various sections, goals, and targets guiding nations on how to halt biodiversity loss and ultimately set humanity on the path to living in harmony with nature by 2050. With unstructured operations towards this path over the past 2+ years, after the previous 2011–2020 Biodiversity Strategic Plan went obsolete, the need for a new strategy that lays down an ambitious plan of action for biodiversity conservation has been urgent.

Biodiversity loss already falls among the 4 out of 9 planetary boundaries whose thresholds humanity has already crossed and experts warn that the rate at which we are crossing the threshold is alarming. This is continuously disrupting our lifeline, putting our very existence at risk. There has been a drastic shift from just being cautious of constant warnings to impending disasters to now living with its gross implications. We do not necessarily need to convey through complex scientific terms how sour it’s becoming for us to survive by the day. The CBD aims to ensure that biological diversity is conserved and sustainably used for the benefit of the present and future generations but witnessing such an existential crisis now leaves us, particularly the young people, worried and uncertain as to whether our descendants will really borrow a livable earth from us or even make it to that future we envision.

As young people, we not only have a clear understanding of what is at stake but also that of the future we envision with nature, and probably only when our leaders are also fully immersed in this reality can they be convicted to act. In this vein, young people rightfully claimed their space at the Nairobi meetings. The Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) convened over 40 young people, both on-site and online, from its various country chapters worldwide to bring our unified voices to the negotiations. Following rigorous consultations in shaping the Post-2020 GBF since its inception as a Zero Draft in 2019 during the first OEWG that also took place in Nairobi, we were here again to signal what we felt about it and our message was irrefutably clear: our negotiators to be champions at “lifting the brackets.” The brackets on rights, equity, justice, inclusive participation; the brackets on youth – the brackets on our future. These brackets whose insertions take less than the blink of an eye but whose heavy discussions on lifting have eaten into days, months, and now years of time by which we’d have transited from commitments to action.

Esther can be seen giving an reading out the intervention laptop while being seated on a blue chair in front of a mic.
Ms. Esther Maina gave an intervention on behalf of GYBN at the OEWG-4 negotiations in Nairobi

As flags of various colors ushered me into the UN complex conference rooms, where crucial aspects of the framework and those upon which the future of all present life on earth and of coming generations is anchored would be negotiated, my anxiety elevated. In a world where most of us have learned to level our expectations, sometimes to the point of being wired to rather expect nothing and get something than the other way around, this just wasn’t the time to expect nothing. From being agents in the frontlines of mobilizing action to safeguard a better earth for our successors, to demanding for rights-based approaches, transformative education, intergenerational equity, justice, and meaningful youth engagement, we were and still are entitled, to have high expectations on these negotiations until these priorities are embedded in the framework. This process must not abort the vision of youth.

I have had the privilege of being in these rooms for the CBD negotiations twice now and given this was the presumed last round of the Post-2020 GBF negotiations, I hoped that the process would at least sync with the “Stop the Same,” business as usual message we’ve been constantly sending. However, nothing much had changed apart from the fact that all our faces were now masked due to the COVID-19 pandemic risk which has heightened the importance of conservation in safeguarding human health, signalling even more urgent action. The opening statement from youth at the OEWG4 was perhaps among the few acknowledged by most delegates to be outrightly truthful and provoking. It provided an overview of what we looked forward to in the week-long negotiations which included being strongly centralized into the framework’s targets.

From lobbying with party delegates for our priorities, delivering interventions on them when given the chance to articles, message chants and other actions, our demands were pitched and voices clearly heard. Despite our resounding call for lifting the brackets on crucial aspects such as the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) including safeguards to inclusion, justice, and free, prior and informed consent, these elements still remain unresolved as parties couldn’t compromise and find a common ground, subjecting them to further discussions. As the question of whether the rights of defenders of the most biodiverse areas on earth should have placeholders around them, let alone debate about troubles me, I share in the dissatisfaction that the newly introduced section B.bis, where these pivotal elements were moved to, may probably be where they will be given less attention as pressure mounts to finalize on the text and the window of this process continues to close.

If transformative change is to come by, then there must be a shift from addressing only the direct drivers of biodiversity loss to addressing the underlying drivers as well, which includes environmental governance. Despite accounting for half of the global population and having to bear the brunt of the socio-ecological crisis for much longer, young people are still marginalized in negotiations and decision-making. Our policy makers therefore should not only listen to the youth but also value our work and make it visible by factoring our perspectives into the framework. With the negotiations expected to generate a biodiversity framework for all, the preliminary stages in the lead up to this must involve a process that meaningfully engages all relevant stakeholders in the society which includes youth who will have to live by decisions made about them. Young people are going to be key to the implementation of the framework therefore, centralizing us in the targets not only guarantees rightful sharing of benefits but our governments can also consider us as partners in achieving indicators for the progress of the targets.

Despite young people developing various strategies to denounce the ineffectiveness and inadequacy of solutions to address the biodiversity crisis from previous political decisions, our world leaders have failed to act at a speed and scale that matches the state of emergency. The Post-2020 GBF still presents an opportunity to work collectively, jointly, and urgently. However, young people continue to be sidelined which only perpetuates the intergenerational injustices we have been fighting against for a long time. This has the risk of alienating voices of on the ground, frontline agents of biodiversity conservation from a process which could significantly result in decisions detached from reality. Such a scenario will also disregard youth-led solutions that have been proven to scale up efforts to protect nature. For the framework to be inclusive, youth must be accorded recognition and the necessary support. The full, effective, and meaningful engagement of youth must not be an afterthought, it should be an overarching principle for a robust and ambitious Post-2020 GBF.

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