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Does the Global Biodiversity Framework give due consideration to market mechanisms? (commentary)

  • The recently approved “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” is meant to guide countries’ efforts to conserve biodiversity.
  • It provides specific guidance on how its targets may be achieved, and in that sense, takes a regulatory approach.
  • The authors of a new op-ed argue that market mechanisms must also be highly considered, given the ability of things like sustainably certified products to fetch higher prices while generating benefits for biodiversity, “payments for ecosystem services” programs that generate billions of dollars in annual transactions, and more.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Multilateral environmental agreements like the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) call for collective leadership by national governments to address the global challenge of biodiversity loss. Their response options can be divided into two broad categories: regulatory and market based.

In December 2022, after two years of delay, Parties to the CBD approved the “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF). Like its predecessor, the “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020,” the GBF is meant to guide countries’ efforts to conserve biodiversity, to ensure that it is sustainably used, and to ensure that its benefits are equitably shared. The Strategic Plan was unsuccessful in fully achieving any of its 20 “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” by 2020. The baton has now been handed to the GBF.

The GBF provides more specific guidance on how its targets may be achieved than did the Strategic Plan. In that sense, the extent to which it invokes regulation on the one hand, and markets on the other, is more apparent.

COP 15 President Huang Runqiu at the COP15 closing plenary in Montreal. Image by UN biodiversity via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
COP 15 President Huang Runqiu at the COP15 closing plenary in Montreal. Image by UN biodiversity via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Regulation concentrates power in the hands of government, so it is perhaps the more instinctive option for the governments that negotiated and adopted the GBF. After all, it is governments that proclaim national parks, administer land use, and rein in corporations when production costs are externalized through pollution and land degradation.

The iconic corporations that typify market-based economies are often thought of as the villains in the unfolding story of environmental degradation. Indeed, corporations are to blame for most of the pollution, land-use change, and other drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. And yet, some of the greatest gains for nature have been achieved by incentivizing its conservation rather than mandating it.

For example, the allocation of property rights for “commons” like fisheries has reduced overfishing; sustainably certified products can fetch higher prices than regular alternatives while generating benefits for biodiversity; hundreds of “payments for ecosystem services” (PES) programs generate billions of dollars in annual transactions; and increasingly efficient agricultural technology, despite its negative effects, has led to continuously decreasing land use per capita worldwide.

Regulation keeps corporations in check, while markets stimulate innovation. The goal, surely, is a sweet spot between regulation that smothers innovation, and a free market that acts with impunity – a sweet spot where minimal government intervention can lever market responses that are better for both people and nature. As the field of biodiversity conservation is constantly in flux and evolving, the search for those sweet spots needs to be an ongoing process. Finding them requires a focus on both regulation and markets.

See related: Biodiversity credits: An opportunity to create a new financing framework

One of the major goals of protected areas is to conserve biodiversity. Photo of knobbed hornbill by Rhett A. Butler.
The goal of the GBF is to conserve biodiversity, like this knobbed hornbill. Image by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

The new GBF addresses the need for a mixed focus in biodiversity conservation to some extent.  Four GBF targets appear to invoke regulatory mechanisms. Target 3 calls for an “equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.” Target 13 addresses the international distribution of genetic resources, through “effective legal, policy… (and) administrative… measures”. Target 14 appeals for “the full integration of biodiversity and its multiple values into policies, regulations, planning and development processes… across all levels of government and across all sectors.” One aspect of Target 19, increasing “financial resources from all sources,” implies regulatory measures such as taxation.

Two other targets lean toward regulation but leave room to strike a balance between regulatory and market mechanisms. Although Target 15 invokes “legal, administrative or policy measures”, these are meant “to encourage and enable business” toward more biodiversity-friendly practices. Target 16, meanwhile, calls for “supportive policy, legislative or regulatory frameworks” to improve consumption information available to consumers. While these targets rely heavily on regulatory action, their effective implementation may encourage competition that pushes businesses to improve biodiversity outcomes and create additional value.

Three GBF targets could be interpreted to invoke market mechanisms. Target 18 aims to “eliminate, phase out or reform incentives, including subsidies that have a negative impact on biodiversity” and to “scale up positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”. Target 19 calls for “encouraging the private sector to invest in biodiversity… (and) stimulating innovative schemes” that benefit biodiversity. Target 20, among other things, “promote(s) development of and access to innovation and technical and scientific cooperation… for effective implementation”, with a focus on fostering technological development in developing countries to benefit biodiversity support.

Negotiators speaking with DRC ministry of environment, Eve Bazaiba, during the closing plenary at COP15. Image by UN biodiversity via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
GBF negotiators speaking with DRC minister for the environment, Eve Bazaiba, during the closing plenary at COP15. Image by UN biodiversity via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

While much is left to the interpretation of the governments responsible for regulation, the GBF does devote some space to encouraging incentives and innovation. On the other hand, incentives may have little to do with markets. Raising taxes to benefit biodiversity, for example, may be entirely propped up by regulation. Without societal buy-in, it may collapse as soon as regulation is relaxed. Even policy that stimulates innovation can be regulatory if it comes with too many rules and restrictions.

The GBF is meant as a guide, rather than a strict template, for biodiversity conservation strategies at the national level and below. While the GBF is now a fait accompli, governments have the autonomy to tailor GBF targets to national needs. Governments’ best chance of conservation success might be to keep searching for those sweet spots of minimal intervention – to figure out how to channel the powerful flow of human nature and adapt the GBF targets so that they need only to gently nudge those levers.


Andre Mader is Director of Biodiversity & Forests at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan, and previously worked at IPBES, the CBD and ICLEI. Kayleigh Crabb is a Master of Environmental Management Candidate at the Yale School of the Environment at Yale University.

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: What can Indigenous knowledge teach the world about saving biodiversity? A conversation with National Geographic’s Kiliii Yuyan, listen here:

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