6 Dec 2018

From local to global: BirdLife at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt

BirdLife has just returned from an intensive three weeks at the UN Biodiversity Conference of Parties in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where we showcased successful conservation projects and advocated for urgent action to further protect nature. Here are the highlights of our achievements.

© Noëlle Kümpel
© Noëlle Kümpel
By Dena Cator & Noëlle Kümpel

One of BirdLife’s largest delegations yet has just returned from an intensive three weeks of negotiations and side meetings at the biannual UN Biodiversity Conference of the Parties in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.  BirdLife Partners from around the world showed how successful conservation can work on the ground and advocated for strong and urgent action to reverse the global destruction of nature.  The global gathering acted as a springboard to what will be a ‘now or never’ meeting in Beijing in 2020, where governments will set a new global biodiversity framework that will determine the fate of the world’s nature, and with it our own future. 


Why we were there


The 14th Conference of the Parties (‘COP14’) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Sharm El Sheikh 13-29 November 2018, was the latest in a series of biannual intergovernmental meetings, where 196 governments, surrounded by thousands of observers, make decisions together on new international policies that aim to conserve nature and the diversity of life on earth. A key focus of this meeting was on the fact that despite some progress on targets set in 2010 to reduce biodiversity loss and start to restore nature, many targets are way off track, and the conservation status of animals and plants around the world continues to decline.

We in BirdLife participate in these discussions by providing scientific information such as that published in our 2018 State of the World’s Birds report, which shows that 40% of bird species globally are now declining, as well as unparalleled expertise and on-the-ground experience from our network of 120 Partner organisations working across the globe. A core group of us from the BirdLife International policy team in the UK worked at the meeting with our CEO, Patricia Zurita, some of our regional staff from Africa and the Middle East, and BirdLife Partners from Egypt, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe – a total of 30 people!

© Noëlle Kümpel

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Some of the key outcomes of the meeting


  • High-level declarations – Prior to the main meeting, our CEO of BirdLife, Patricia Zurita, as well as some BirdLife staff and Partners, attended a summit of African Environment Ministers to discuss the state of biodiversity in Africa and strategies for conserving it. This resulted in an African Ministerial Declaration on Biodiversity, which endorses an African-wide action plan to restore ecosystems and biodiversity for increased resilience on the continent by 2030. A high-level meeting also took place with Ministers of Environment and other leaders from the business sector on how to integrate biodiversity considerations into economic sectors such as energy, mining and infrastructure development. This resulted in the Sharm El Sheikh Declaration on Investing in Biodiversity for People and Planet that urges things like the use of integrated spatial planning and strategic environmental assessments to minimize impacts of development on biodiversity.


  • 2020 Targets for Biodiversity – Much discussion took place at the COP about the 20 Aichi Targets, which countries agreed upon in 2010 to address the drivers of biodiversity loss and conserve biodiversity at national and global levels by 2020. A new report released by the Secretariat of the CBD just ahead of the meeting confirmed that the ambition of many National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans does not match what is needed to achieve the Targets, despite it looking like some elements will be achieved, such as 17% of the earth’s land and 10% of marine areas being protected. Governments agreed to accelerate action to achieve the Aichi Targets by 2020, listing a number of options such as protecting or conserving Key Biodiversity Areas, in particular Alliance for Zero Extinction sites that contain the last remaining populations of the world’s most threatened species, which BirdLife advocated at the meeting.

Noëlle Kümpel, Head of Policy, giving a plenary intervention urging accelerated efforts to achieve the Aichi Targets and to focus new protected and conserved areas on KBAs and AZE sites © Noëlle Kümpel

  • A global deal for nature and people post-2020 – Reflecting this lack of progress, the Sharm El Sheikh Declaration and a detailed plan agreed by Parties also committed to the development of an ambitious and transformational post-2020 biodiversity framework aligned with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, and invited the UN General Assembly to convene a Heads of State summit on biodiversity in 2020 in order to ensure engagement at the highest levels.


  • ‘Mainstreaming’ biodiversity – This is CBD-speak for integrating biodiversity considerations into mainstream planning and policy processes; a long-term strategy for mainstreaming biodiversity into other economic sectors was agreed upon, with a greater focus on mainstreaming work to be supported by the Global Environment Facility, the financing mechanism of the Convention, such as currently being conducted through our 11-country GEF-UNDP Migratory Soaring Birds Project.  The key role in this project of the conference host, Egypt, was highlighted, alongside BirdLife’s local Partner, Nature Conservation Egypt, particularly in its drive to become the renewable energy hub of the Eastern Mediterranean while minimising impacts on biodiversity.

Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, presenting in a high level panel on ‘tools for mainstreaming biodiversity’ in the Global Business and Biodiversity Forum © Ken Mwathe

  • Cooperation between conventions and policy processes – The importance of this was highlighted, with Parties, for example, urging the establishment of a cross-convention, multi-stakeholder global coastal forum to support the conservation and sustainable development of coastal wetlands, and ensuring linkages between the work of the Convention on Migratory Species Energy Task Force, which BirdLife coordinates, and the CBD’s mainstreaming work.


  • Climate change - Voluntary guidelines for utilising nature-based solutions to adapt to climate change, and to reduce risks from natural disasters, were agreed upon, underlining the interlinkages between nature and climate.


  • Defining new areas for the conservation of biodiversity – Guidance on establishing and managing protected areas was agreed at the meeting as well for newly-defined ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’, which are other strategies for protecting species and ecosystems outside of official protected areas (such as privately owned land, military reserves, and the like, which can cover and conserve important areas for biodiversity such as Key Biodiversity Areas through planning and management decisions).


  • Marine conservation – One of the challenges at the meeting was that agreement was not reached on the setting up of a process to review existing ecologically and biologically significant marine areas (EBSAs) and describing new ones - the issue was political and focused on the sovereignty concerns of countries. This will need to continue to be discussed at future meetings.


Sharing BirdLife’s science and work in the sidelines

Candice Stevens (BirdLife South Africa) was awarded for her tax incentives scheme © Noëlle Kümpel

While at the meeting, BirdLife was in the news and communicating about its work in a variety of ways. BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy Programme Manager Candice Stevens together with the government of South Africa won this year’s Pathfinder Special Commendation Award for their work on biodiversity tax incentives in South Africa.  Asaad Serhal of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (BirdLife in Lebanon) received the acclaimed Midori Prize, in recognition of his revitalisation of the ‘hima’ community-based traditional system for area-based conservation which has led to the protection of 22 terrestrial, wetland and marine areas across Lebanon. BirdLife Zimbabwe’s Fadzai Matsvimbo received the keys from Toyota Motor Corporation for a new vehicle to support their vulture research and management in the country.

BirdLife Zimbabwe’s Fadzai Matsvimbo received the keys for a new vehicle to support their vulture research © Michael Garbo

Melanie Heath, Director of Science, Policy and Information, spoke on a panel on scenarios and data at the 4th Science Forum. Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator, explained the global effort that went into mapping the last known refuges of highly threatened species around the world, unveiled at the start of the conference. Noëlle Kümpel, Head of Policy, was interviewed by local media about BirdLife’s work in Egypt and her thoughts on the meeting. And Carolina Hazin, Global Marine Policy Coordinator, became Shirley the Shearwater for an afternoon in a special Sustainable Oceans Day event where she highlighted the pressures on migrating ocean birds!

Carolina Hazin, Global Marine Policy Coordinator, became Shirley the Shearwater © IISD Reporting Services

BirdLife also hosted and participated in a vast number of side events to discuss the work we do in support of the convention and to share lessons learnt and best practice. Topics included:

Ishana Thapa, CEO of Bird Conservation Nepal, presenting work conducted under a joint project with BirdLife International and Danish Partner DOF to build the capacity of BirdLife Partners in Asia and Africa to advocate for mainstreaming biodiversity © Noëlle Kümpel

With some strong decisions and commitments made by governments in Sharm El Sheikh, we must now continue the momentum – and with only a two day break, we are doing just that, highlighting the role of nature-based solutions and biodiversity-friendly renewable energy development at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Katovice, Poland, over the course of the next two weeks…


For a full list of BirdLife’s side events, see: http://www.birdlife.org/sites/default/files/birdlife_side_events_at_cbd_cop14_12-11-18.pdf.

To learn more about BirdLife’s international policy work, follow us on Twitter @BirdLife_Policy

For more information and photos of what happened at the Conference, see: http://enb.iisd.org/biodiv/cop14/enb/ and http://enb.iisd.org/biodiv/cop14/side-events/.