Kunming – Montreal post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: What does it mean for biodiversity research infrastructures?

On Dec 19, after hours of negotiations and discussions, nations (except the U.S. and the Vatican) agreed to protect 30% of the planet for nature by 2030 (also known as the 30 x 30 agreement). The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework has been proclaimed both as a historic decision and also as a missed opportunity to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights. The full Kunming – Montreal (COP15) documents can be found on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) site.

Excellent reporting, live tweeting, and summary threads about the event chronicled some of the ups and downs of the event with opinions. There was also a statement released by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission. The full statement is here.

This post is a preliminary take on what this framework means for research infrastructures like DiSSCo that are enabling the collection, storage, and dissemination of biodiversity data. These data (which include natural science collections) are critical for a wide range of research purposes, including monitoring and assessment of the status of biodiversity, identification of conservation priorities, and the development of management and conservation strategies.

The framework outlines 4 goals and 23 targets. In the 4 goals, the terms “data” and “infrastructure” are not explicitly mentioned. However, Goal C mentions digital sequence information on genetic resources:

The monetary and non-monetary benefits from the utilization of genetic resources, and digital sequence information on genetic resources, and of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, as applicable, are shared fairly and equitably, including, as appropriate with indigenous peoples and local communities, and substantially increased by 2050, while ensuring traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is appropriately protected, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in accordance with internationally agreed access and benefit-sharing instruments. 

source: https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/7a5e/1d9a/f8718d1a5dd9828dba764053/cop-15-item9a-nonpaper-president-en.pdf

The link to genetic information is an important component for DiSSCo and also a focus for projects like BiCIKL and Biodiversity Genomics Europe. However, some of the granularity of this Goal needs to be outlined carefully. Is Nagoya protocol enough? Are genetic resources in any digital form or format applicable here? How do we measure fair and equitable sharing in the digital realm? These questions are not new but now we have a new target to think about.

Goal D talks about technical and scientific cooperation which is one of the primary services provided by various research infrastructures.

Adequate means of implementation, including financial resources, capacity-building, technical and scientific cooperation, and access to and transfer of technology to fully implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework are secured and equitably accessible to all Parties, especially developing countries, in particular the least developed countries and small island developing States, as well as countries with economies in transition, progressively closing the biodiversity finance gap of 700 billion dollars per year, and aligning financial flows with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. 

source: https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/7a5e/1d9a/f8718d1a5dd9828dba764053/cop-15-item9a-nonpaper-president-en.pdf

I am yet to see how the “transfer of technology” can happen truly at a global scale with varying capacity and access to resources around the world. From personal experiences, I can tell that different funding schemas in Europe and the U.S. also make it difficult for cross-continental and international resource sharing and infrastructure building projects.

The framework talks about 23 action oriented targets that need to be implemented. Target 20 mentions joint technology development and joint scientific research programmes (emphasis mine):

Strengthen capacity-building and development, access to and transfer of technology, and promote development of and access to innovation and technical and scientific cooperation, including through South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation, to meet the needs for effective implementation, particularly in developing countries, fostering joint technology development and joint scientific research programmes for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and strengthening scientific research and monitoring capacities, commensurate with the ambition of the goals and targets of the framework. 

Target 21 has explicit mentions of “data” (emphasis mine):

Ensure that the best available data, information and knowledge, are accessible to decision makers, practitioners and the public to guide effective and equitable governance, integrated and participatory management of biodiversity, and to strengthen communication, awareness-raising, education, monitoring, research and knowledge management and, also in this context, traditional knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of indigenous peoples and local communities should only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent, in accordance with national legislation. 

It is good that the text separates data, information, and knowledge. This also aligns with our goal of supporting FAIR and Open data for a diverse set of stakeholders. The term “infrastructure” is missing. The idea of “knowledge management” captures some of the socio-technical aspects of infrastructure. A few more details are in the draft action items in the section entitled “STRATEGIES TO ENHANCE BIODIVERSITY KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT ” where several of our collaborators are mentioned.

Knowledge generation and synthesis encompass the creation and advancement of new knowledge and the building of an evidence base, primarily through research and academic initiatives, as well as analysis of information provided by Governments, relevant organizations and other sources. Examples of organizations and processes contributing to the generation and synthesis of biodiversity-related information and knowledge include university research institutions, GEO-BON, IPBES, global assessments by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNEP-WCMC and others.

Knowledge generation and focusing on these organisations are great steps. But infrastructural thinking brings out the hidden elements that are needed to design, create, and most importantly maintain the resources for knowledge management.

And it is heartening to see the acknowledgement of metadata and infrastructures like GBIF in the draft decisions:

The knowledge generated or collected must be organized, catalogued and mapped using appropriate metadata and descriptors for easy searchability, accessibility and retrieval. Key players, such as GBIF, GEO-BON, InforMEA and UNEP-WCMC, have developed standards that can be further elaborated and shared. Increasing access to information can be addressed by ensuring full and complete metadata tagging, including subject tagging of knowledge objects. Consistent use of shared terminology increases findability, as does full-text indexing. Increasing the interoperability of search systems and standardization and the use of common descriptors will allow for better findability of information 

source: https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/c9de/d8ef/7225d7bb822f39ad3426c52b/cop-15-02-en.pdf

Even though TDWG (Biodiversity Information Standards) and the FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability) or CARE (Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, Ethics) principles are not explicitly mentioned, we do see here understanding of metadata, shared terminology and other aspects of FAIR. Target 1 mentions “respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities”.

There are mentions of “effective collaboration, cooperation and coordination among Governments and relevant organizations in biodiversity data, information and knowledge processes”. This is important for research infrastructures. Also “Alliance for Biodiversity Knowledge” is mentioned in the draft decisions document as an “Informal network”. But we need to see how these collaborations can help with the targets and align them with the operational activities of the research infrastructures.

Data standards came up a few times in the strategic action draft document where again the idea of “findability” and “interoperability” is highlighted without explicitly mentioning FAIR:

Continued improvement of metadata quality, tagging and mapping of knowledge objects from biodiversity-related conventions through InforMEA and other sources to allow for increased findability.  

Development, publicization and promotion of standards for metadata quality and tagging of biodiversity information and knowledge resources to ensure quality and compatibility.

Improvement of interoperability of information and knowledge systems of biodiversity-related conventions and other information providers across the biodiversity community. 
source: https://www.cbd.int/doc/c/c9de/d8ef/7225d7bb822f39ad3426c52b/cop-15-02-en.pdf

A few other thoughts:

  1. Implementation of the framework and the achievement of its goals and targets will be facilitated and enhanced through support mechanisms and strategies under the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Protocols, in accordance with its provisions and decisions adopted at COP-15.” — How will this transfer into the priorities of each research infrastructure and various European projects? There are specialisations and expertise (for instance from specimen management, sensors, eDNA and digital twins) that bring own challenges of data integration and linking. How would these data issues interface with CBD and its Protocols?
  2. Do we need to take stock of how different research infrastructures and projects responded to the 20 Aichi Targets before we embark on this? One of the early criticism of COP15 is the implementation mechanism are too weak and there are no clear plans. Maybe the infrastructure and data level thinking can help with this.

There’s still a lot to unpack. And I can imagine coming up with such texts in a collaborative environment is not easy. But on the positive side, we have global attention on biodiversity now (even though sometimes this gets overshadowed by “climate change”). Governments and financial organisations are paying closer attention. This is a great time for projects like DiSSCo and other collaborators to take this impetus and contribute to strategic actions.

Published by Sharif Islam

Data Architect, DiSSCo

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