Summary report, 5 July 2021

3rd ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity: Final session

The fifth and final session of the Third ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity (ACB 2020) represented a milestone for Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the road to shaping the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

While not a formal negotiating session, the meeting provided the opportunity for ASEAN Member States (AMS), regional officials, and stakeholders to offer their perspectives ahead of the next negotiating meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the GBF in August 2021. The GBF will set the terms of global action to conserve biodiversity, use it sustainably, and share equitably in its benefits up to the year 2050.

The 5 July meeting, organized by the Government of Malaysia and its Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA) with the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, convened under the theme “Towards 2050: Living in Harmony with Nature.” 

The meeting consisted of six keynote presentations by speakers representing global or regional organizations or processes, after which AMS and stakeholders offered interventions.

Several AMS emphasized the need for adequate finance and technology transfer to enable the full implementation of the GBF. They called for innovative and measurable approaches, highlighting, for example, the need to manage biodiversity in cities, not only in protected areas. Action to protect marine and coastal biodiversity and to stem the tide of plastic waste exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic also emerged as key concerns. Many speakers highlighted the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystems, estimated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at around USD 33 trillion, far beyond the GDP of any single nation.

Civil society leaders expressed concern for the human rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) as they seek to protect their territories, which are often important biodiversity habitats, from destruction. They called for promoting education, gender equality, and the fair distribution of the benefits of biodiversity. A private sector representative highlighted the sector’s role not only in biodiversity finance, but also in contributing to policy making. AMS strongly affirmed the need for multi-stakeholder approaches.

Basile van Havre, Co-Chair of the OEWG on the Post-2020 GBF, highlighted the importance of Asian voices in developing the framework. He acknowledged the difficulty of conducting negotiations across time zones, with countries in the Asia region most often needing to attend online meetings very late into the night or in the early morning hours.

Hesiquio Benitez, Chair of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), flagged the possibility that face-to-face negotiations may be organized to conclude negotiations on the issues of marine and coastal biodiversity, invasive alien species, and biodiversity and health.

Delegates discussed their national and regional actions to build back better from the pandemic, while conserving and restoring biodiversity.

Kung Phoak, ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General, noted that biodiversity experts have recognized a clear link between biodiversity loss and the emergence of pandemics. He drew attention to the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework for the region, and the forthcoming launch of the ASEAN Green Initiative, through which 10 million trees will be planted to restore rainforest and mangrove ecosystems.

Jon Lambe, UK Ambassador to ASEAN, emphasized that the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected, and must be tackled in an integrated manner.

Marcia Tambutti, UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), gave practical examples of how biodiversity mainstreaming has become a cornerstone for sustainable development in her region, with positive impacts for poverty alleviation and job creation.

The meeting closed with the screening of a campaign video by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity and an invitation to everyone to support the “We Are ASEAN Biodiversity” social media campaign.

A Brief History of the ASEAN Conferences on Biodiversity

AMS host and organize the ASEAN Conferences on Biodiversity (ACBs), with support from the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, an intergovernmental organization that facilitates cooperation and coordination among the 10 AMS. The center was established in 2005 under a Governing Board of ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environment and the ASEAN Secretary-General, and is headquartered in Los Baños, the Philippines.

ACB 2009: The First ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity (ACB 2009) took place from 21-23 October 2009 and was hosted by the Government of Singapore under the theme “Biodiversity in Focus: 2010 and Beyond.” The conference brought together more than 300 participants from government, business, academia, and civil society from the region and beyond. The conference addressed three main topics: climate change and biodiversity; access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization (ABS); and the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity. A key focus was the status of ASEAN biodiversity in relation to the 2010 Biodiversity Target, which aimed to achieve a significant reduction in biodiversity loss, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth. The target had been added to the Millennium Development Goals based on a decision taken by the 6th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 6) (VI/26) and was later endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the UN General Assembly.

ACB 2009 formulated policy recommendations, which were formally presented to ASEAN senior officials during the ASEAN Ministerial Conference that immediately followed. ACB 2009 inputs and outcomes also fed into the ASEAN 2010 Biodiversity Report, produced by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, and launched at CBD COP 10 in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010. Among other key decisions, COP 10 agreed on the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, successfully concluding seven years of negotiations.

ACB 2016: The Second ASEAN Conference on Biodiversity (ACB 2016) took place from 15-19 February 2016 in Bangkok, Thailand. ACB 2016 drew more than 800 participants to discussions on steps forward to advance the ASEAN biodiversity agenda in the context of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025, and the 2015 adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and.

ACB 2016 discussed progress of AMS in implementing their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) and identified areas where additional efforts were needed to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The meeting also discussed ABS, climate change and biodiversity, health and biodiversity, and financing for biodiversity conservation in the ASEAN region, including through the ASEAN Biodiversity Fund. The second edition of the ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook was launched at the conference, providing a mid-term report on Member States’ progress toward achieving the Aichi Targets.

ACB 2016 took place ahead of CBD COP 13 in Cancún, Mexico, in October of that year, which marked a move towards enhanced implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the CBD’s 2011-2020 Strategic Plan.

ACB 2020: ACB 2020 was originally scheduled for March 2020 in Malaysia. The conference was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions, and was subsequently reorganized to take place in a virtual format. Prior to this final session, four ACB 2020 sessions took place:

  • A virtual dialogue among AMS and senior officials from the CBD and the OEWG on the Post-2020 GBF, on 23 September 2020;
  • Mainstreaming Biodiversity, on 27 October;
  • Transformative Change and Innovations in Biodiversity Conservation, on 26 November; and
  • Business and Biodiversity, on 10 December. 

Report of the Conference

Opening Segment

Moderator Maya Karin, television host and green advocate, welcomed participants, provided an overview of previous events, and thanked the partners funding the conference.

Theresa Mundita Lim, Executive Director, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, expressed her gratitude to the Malaysian Government and the many other partners and donors who had enabled the fifth and final session of the conference to take place, albeit virtually. She noted that the four virtual sessions preceding this one had identified common interests, and strengthened strategies and actions for biodiversity in the region. She warmly thanked all presenters at those sessions, including Elizabeth Mrema, CBD Executive Secretary. She said the pandemic has underscored the need “to re-examine our relationship with nature” and the urgency of acting in partnership and collaboration for the protection of biodiversity and people’s wellbeing. She expressed hope that ACB 2020 would contribute to aligning AMS interests as a region, to achieve a shared recovery and a resilient future.

Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Malaysia, highlighted the importance of the conference in promoting biodiversity conservation in the whole region, and in facilitating an ASEAN position at the upcoming CBD COP 15. He stressed that economic growth and development can go hand in hand with biodiversity conservation. He called on all concerned to direct their collective spirit and strength to the challenge of conserving biodiversity, so that future generations can continue to enjoy its benefits. He affirmed that the ASEAN region will indeed be able to achieve the goal of “living in harmony with nature by 2050.”

Participants then viewed a video presentation on the outcomes of the first four virtual sessions of ACB 2020 that took place during the second half of 2020.

Keynote Addresses

Keynote 1: Adapting the Future GBF to a Better Normal: Basile van Havre, OEWG Co-Chair, provided an update on progress made in developing the GBF. He affirmed the progress made, and shared his view that the CBD community needs to be able to meet in person to reach consensus. He stressed that, to be successful, the GBF must engage civil society, major financial institutions, and businesses alike. Highlighting the importance of Asian voices in developing the GBF, he invited all to consider how the idea of Asian values can help shape the concept of prosperity for future generations.

Keynote 2: Ways Forward for ASEAN—from SBSTTA to COP 15: Hesiquio Benitez, SBSTTA Chair, informed participants that the recent virtual SBSTTA meeting, held from 3 May to 9 June 2021, approved several draft texts. He said further discussion will be needed to conclude matters regarding marine and coastal biodiversity, invasive alien species, and biodiversity and health. Acknowledging the challenges for countries to participate in virtual meetings across different time zones he announced that Switzerland has offered to host further face-to-face meetings of SBSTTA and the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) in January 2022 to conclude negotiations on the GBF.

Keynote 3: Post-pandemic Recovery—the ASEAN Response: Kung Phoak, ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General, noted the pandemic has compounded environmental threats. He said experts have recognized a clear link between biodiversity loss and the emergence of pandemics. For example, he cited a figure of 1.6 million tons of plastic waste generated daily worldwide through the vastly increased use of personal protective equipment and disposable packaging used in delivery services. He drew attention to the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework for the region, which includes: promoting nature-based solutions; addressing plastic waste and marine plastic debris; and supporting the region’s transition to a circular economy. He announced the forthcoming launch of the ASEAN Green Initiative that will plant 10 million trees to restore rainforest and mangrove ecosystems.

Keynote 4: Biodiversity Today and Beyond: Mazlan Othman, International Science Council, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, demonstrated how the biosphere is the foundation of all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and how the biodiversity-focused SDGs 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) emerge as multipliers of co-benefits across all the SDGs. She referred to the dramatic biodiversity loss in all global regions, and to the five key threats to biodiversity, namely land and sea use change, pollution, species overexploitation, climate change, and invasive species and disease. She suggested that Foresight Planning can be applied to biodiversity, helping to identify and assess different future scenarios. She drew attention to the USD 33 trillion value of global biodiversity and ecosystems, which, she stressed, are providing the world’s food systems and medicines.

Keynote 5: Lessons Learned from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) in Mainstreaming Biodiversity: Marcia Tambutti, ECLAC, demonstrated the ways in which biodiversity mainstreaming serves as a cornerstone for sustainable development. She provided specific examples of initiatives in artisanal fisheries, vineyards, forestry, agriculture, tourism, and finance, which led to a return on investment in economic, social, and environmental terms. She emphasized the need for further enhancing and scaling up biodiversity mainstreaming to promote systemic changes. This, she concluded, required further generation of data, development of indicators and metrics, political will, and behavior change among all actors.

Keynote 6: Synergies between Global Commitments to Protect Nature: Jon Lambe, UK Ambassador to ASEAN, highlighted the synergies between biodiversity and climate change, noting ecosystems are under threat from the impacts of sea-level rise and the changing climate. He noted that, although ASEAN Member States cover just 3% of the Earth’s surface, three of them are among the world’s 17 most mega-diverse countries. He encouraged all concerned to support the “30 x 30” target of protecting 30% of the Earth’s land and water by 2030, emphasizing that protecting biodiversity is economically beneficial. He explained that the 30 x 30 target is a global one, and does not signify identical obligations for every country. He said international cooperation will be required to achieve this target for the world given that, for example, two-thirds of the world’s oceans are outside national jurisdiction.

Lambe stated that the UK has made “nature” a priority for its presidency of COP 26 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He said nature-based solutions have benefits for biodiversity as well as for the climate. He outlined the two main aims of the UK’s COP presidency: global action to protect and restore forests; and a global transition to sustainable agriculture and land use. He announced that at least GBP 3 billion of the UK’s international financial commitments will be directed toward protecting and restoring biodiversity. Finally, he invited AMS to sign the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, noting that 89 countries have already done so as a commitment to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

ASEAN Member State Interventions

Abdul Wahid Abu Salim, Deputy Secretary-General (Natural Resources), KeTSA, Malaysia, led a session during which AMS representatives made short interventions.

Noralinda Ibrahim, Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, Brunei Darussalam, underlined the importance of nature-based solutions for biodiversity conservation, and, in particular, for forest and wetland restoration. She said that such solutions should be central to efforts to further enhance our resilience to future challenges, supported by research, technology, and community empowerment.

Veosavanh Saysavanh, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), referred to the GBF target relating to protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and the need for technical and financial assistance for developing countries. He stressed that community involvement, including women and youth, is crucial to protect biodiversity.

Fifin Nopiansyah, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia, acknowledged challenges posed by the current pandemic and urged looking for nature-based solutions in anticipation of other emerging diseases. He supported the mainstreaming of biodiversity in all sectors, with increased participation by women and youth. He also called for the sustainable use of biodiversity and the application of principles of justice and balance in ABS, especially regarding local communities as the guardians of biodiversity.

Myat Su Mon, Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, Myanmar, supported a strong and ambitious yet realistic and achievable GBF. She called for further financial and technical support for nature-based solutions, mainstreaming biodiversity, and other implementation efforts. She underlined the importance of updating NBSAPs with the newly-aligned goals and targets under the GBF.

Khairul Naim Adham, KeTSA, Malaysia, called for inserting digital sequence information on genetic resources, pollination, and urban biodiversity into the GBF. He noted the framework highlights the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity, indicating that biodiversity values must be included in all sectors, and that inclusive, strategic environmental assessments must be comprehensively applied. He affirmed Malaysia’s commitment to ASEAN and Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries on the key issues of resource mobilization and ABS. He also affirmed Malaysia’s support for the use of NBSAPs as the primary monitoring and reporting documents for submission to the CBD. In conclusion, he called on parties to provide sufficient financial and technical assistance to ensure the full implementation of the GBF, as well as guidance documents and other forms of support.

Jittinun Ruengverayudh, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand, noted that Thailand has sought to reduce human pressure on natural resources and to address wildlife trafficking. He added that his country is taking action to address the drivers of biodiversity loss in the agriculture, fisheries, energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, and tourism sectors. He drew attention to Thailand’s recent launch of its ‘BCG’ (Bio-Circular-Green) approach to increase fair access to natural resources and encourage people to live in harmony with nature.

Lena Chan, National Parks Board, Singapore, called for the adoption of an inter-generational mindset. She urged everyone to “think globally, act locally and regionally,” noting that the ASEAN Heritage Parks, a regional initiative for biodiversity conservation, will make a significant contribution in this regard. She emphasized that cities must restore, enhance, and even re-create ecosystems. She urged parties to the CBD to support subnational and local governments, recognizing their potential for significant contributions. She also called for tracking progress through indices such as the Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity.

 Hoang Thi Thanh Nhan, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Viet Nam, highlighted Viet Nam’s initiatives for tree planting and a reduction of plastic waste. She called for: united and integrated cooperation; resource mobilization; support for capacity building; appropriate technology; and technology transfer to enable the full implementation of NBSAPs and the GBF.

Stakeholder Interventions

IPLCs: Peter Kallang, Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCA) Consortium, stressed that IPLCs conserve more than one-fifth of the world’s land. He provided examples, including the Philippines, where 75% of the country’s remaining rainforest overlaps with indigenous peoples’ territories. He called for the GBF to protect the human rights of IPLCs.

Women: Rhodora May Sumaray, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)​, stated that, despite significant gains, women’s contributions to biodiversity conservation and protection still go largely unnoticed. She drew attention to the work of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity and AMS in reversing this trend, including through a recent training workshop supported by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the CBD to strengthen understanding of the linkages between gender and biodiversity. She emphasized that gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial to achieving future biodiversity targets.

Private sector: Syed Mohazri Syed Hazari, DHI Water and Environment, highlighted the role of business, not only in providing finance, but also in contributing to policy making on biodiversity. He welcomed the establishment of the Malaysian Platform for Business and Biodiversity and urged AMS to continue including the private sector in their biodiversity efforts.

NGOs: Lim Li Lin, Third World Network, called on governments to recognize and support the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and traditional resources. She identified, as key issues, unsustainable resource extraction, “perverse incentives” to perpetuate unfair trade rules, and tax evasion by wealthy corporations. She called for the negotiation process around the GBF to be fair to all parties, and to include civil society and rights holders.

Youth: Karl Png, Global Youth Biodiversity Network, deplored the global and regional extinction crisis, and highlighted the education and involvement of youth as a key enabler for transformative change. He called for an ambitious GBF that applies a rights-based approach. 

Messages from ASEAN Ministers and Senior Officials

In a series of recorded video messages, ASEAN ministers and senior officials shared their collective commitment to biodiversity conservation under the slogan, “We are part of the solution—we are ASEAN biodiversity!”

ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi called for a whole-of-society approach and multi-stakeholder collaboration to enable the wiser use of natural resources.

Noralinda Ibrahim, Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, Brunei Darussalam, referred to the high forest cover in her country and to the crucial and diverse roles of individual species in our ecosystems.

Indra Exploitasia, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia, stated that mainstreaming biodiversity is key to achieving our targets in a post-pandemic economy.

Bounpone Sengthong, Department of Forestry, Lao PDR, referred to his country’s protected areas as biodiversity hotspots, and recommended nature-based solutions to tackle current challenges including climate change.

Zurinah Pawanteh, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Malaysia, emphasized the links between human health and biodiversity, and the need to further strengthen partnerships and share benefits. She stressed that the Malaysian Government redistributes public revenue to state governments for their efforts in conserving biodiversity (Ecological Fiscal Transfer).

Nyi Nyi Kyaw, Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Myanmar, expressed confidence that biodiversity loss can be reversed. He referred to Myanmar’s focus on nature-based solutions, effective protected area management including IPLCs, and measures against wildlife trafficking.

Edilberto Leonardo, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Philippines, underlined important successes in species protection, protected area conservation, and combatting wildlife trafficking in his country. He listed public-private partnerships as a key success factor for nature-based solutions.

Lena Chan, National Parks Board, Singapore, expressed five “aspirations” to: conserve and protect ecosystem diversity beyond the boundaries of protected areas; reduce carbon emissions by changing our current modes of production; restore, rehabilitate, and enhance natural ecosystems; use science and technology to revitalize ecosystems and learn from nature, including through bio-mimicry; and involve everyone on the journey to internalize the ethics of biodiversity.

Closing Segment

Abdul Wahid, on behalf of the host country Malaysia, recalled that Malaysia had highlighted the need for realistic targets and indicators in the GBF, taking into account national circumstances. He noted that the process of developing the GBF must be participatory, and should include IPLCs and people “from all walks of life.” He called for using natural capital accounting in planning and decision making, and for strengthening environmental and social governance.

Concluding the meeting, he summarized the contributions from other AMS. He highlighted AMS’ recognition of the connectivity of marine and coastal ecosystems, the value of soil biodiversity, and the implications of invasive alien species. He noted that the region sees the importance of capacity building through technology transfer, knowledge management, and communication.

On behalf of KeTSA and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, he thanked all participants for their work, which he said had enabled productive conversations to take place.

At the close of the meeting, moderator Maya Karin invited everyone to support the campaign, #WeAreASEANBiodiversity, through following the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity on social media. The meeting closed at 12.35 pm with the screening of the campaign video, featuring messages from UNEP goodwill ambassadors and other environmental advocates.

Further information