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The UN Convention on Biodiversity is just wrapping up after two weeks of ongoing negotiations and discussions that are taking place in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.

Government officials, biodiversity experts, NGOs, and activists came together to work of goals and targets on how to conserve natural resources, sustainably use them, and ensure that fair and equitable benefits come from the use of genetic resources.

While most of the key issues have been decided on, a handful of issues are still being negotiated.

One of the issues countries are still debating on are “voluntary commitments” and whether or not they should be included in the final framework. Adding “voluntary commitments”, just like the name says, would meant that countries can assign their own goals on how to reduce biodiversity loss. And there are a lot of strong, but often contradictory opinions, about it.

“I think voluntary commitments are great tools and whether they are included in documents here or not in our mind it is not important, what is important is the commitment from leaders and Canada is very committed,” says Basile van Havre, head delegate of Canada at COP14. “Our country in climate side – we are in the high ambition coalition – and we are thinking about doing something similar on the biodiversity side.”

Arreguin Prado, part of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), for instance, who is also an environmental activist from Mexico, however states that she does not believe voluntary commitments are the most ambitious way to curb biodiversity loss.


“Personally I don’t think voluntary commitments are going to work,” says Prado, who is currently attending the Conference. “Even some of the Aichi Targets that are not explicitly voluntary are not being achieved. Specifically adding voluntary commitments will only lower the goals of the parties.”

During the COP10 meeting on biodiversity, Aichi Targets were agreed upon by parties as “short term plan” to meet 20 “ambitious yet achievable targets” by 2020. While many Aichi Targets are still a long way to go from being fully achieved, some experts believe that voluntary commitments are a good way to encourage further commitment from countries.

“We think that the voluntary biodiversity commitments are very good for countries to show leadership and take ownership in this process,” says Bernadette Fischler, Head of Advocacy for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for the Our Planet / 2020 Project. “We hope that they will stay and that there will be a clear commitment that the process that will well-reflect the three objectives of the convention of biodiversity.”

A common criticism for “voluntary commitments”,  however, is a reflection of the lack of progress made on similar non-obligatory commitments agreed upon for climate change emission in Paris. Several studies have shown that most countries are not, in fact, making the progress they should be in order to meet the 1.5 emission goals set out in Paris.

“There is one thing that I like to say about comparisons of the Paris and Biodiversity voluntary commitments,” says Fischler. “The voluntary commitments under the Paris agreement had a very important function before Paris and that imp function was to create political will and ambition and dynamics. We believe that the voluntary commitments under the biodiversity framework can have the same function.”

Prado, however, believes it will make it more difficult to emphasize on the importance of including biodiversity conservation policies on national levels.

“I feel that, Mexico, for example, has strong commitments – its one of the parties that pushed for many things,” she explains. “But the people here are not the whole government and if we as a country don’t have involuntary or compulsory commitments, the other ministries won’t take it seriously and nothing is going to happen.”

Rabiya Shabeeh

About Rabiya Shabeeh

Rabiya Jaffery is a print and multimedia journalist covering culture, conflicts, and climate from the Middle East.