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Global biodiversity deal running short on time and ambition

The first face-to-face negotiations on a new global deal for nature saw more support for protecting 30% of the planet, but major obstacles remain
<p>The golden langur, one of many endangered species in the Himalayan region. Observers are paying close to attention to progress in negotiations towards a new global biodiversity deal, ahead of the COP15 meeting in China (Image: Alamy)</p>

The golden langur, one of many endangered species in the Himalayan region. Observers are paying close to attention to progress in negotiations towards a new global biodiversity deal, ahead of the COP15 meeting in China (Image: Alamy)

Negotiators and observers left the latest meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with renewed momentum but with many issues still unresolved, including how to find the missing US$700 billion needed annually to protect and restore nature.

The two-and-a-half week session in Geneva saw the first purely face-to-face negotiations since before the Covid-19 pandemic began. With just a few months before COP15 – the major CBD meeting, to be held in China – it was also billed as the last chance to make significant changes to the draft text that came out of the last CBD meeting in October, which had been widely criticised.

The Geneva talks saw many additions to the text, but most are in square brackets, meaning they have yet to be agreed upon. An extra meeting has now been scheduled for June in Nairobi to try and find consensus.

How to close the finance gap?

Finance remains a sticking point. Investment needed for biodiversity is estimated at $844 billion annually, which is $711 billion more than is currently being spent.

On finance specifically from developed to developing countries, a coalition of environmental groups, including the Campaign for Nature, the Nature Conservancy, WWF and the World Resources Institute, had called ahead of the meeting for wealthy countries to support a target of at least $60 billion annually.

The sum would help tackle the impact of wealthy country consumption habits on biodiversity, they argued. Some 30% of global threats to biodiversity are generated by international trade, particularly in commodities produced in developing countries for use in richer nations, according to research by the University of Sydney.

The NGOs also called for a more holistic approach to finance, including by redirecting harmful subsidies, in sectors such as agriculture and mining, and spending existing resources more efficiently. A group of countries including Argentina and Brazil, led by Gabon, called for developed countries to provide at least $100 billion a year, rising to $700 billion by 2030.

Though negotiators added language to the draft agreement about aligning financial flows to be nature-positive, they are “still really far apart” on how to close the financing gap, according to Andrew Deutz, director of global policy, institutions and conservation finance at the Nature Conservancy.

“There’s a pretty wide range of expectations and positions. As a former negotiator, I think that’s okay. We’re still going through the process of figuring out where everybody is, and once that’s done, you can negotiate to a consensus,” he said.

Brazil in particular is “taking a hard line” in the finance discussions to try and maximise the foreign aid it receives, and is supported by other countries in Africa and Latin America, he noted. “It suits some countries’ interests to treat all the ‘developing’ countries the same, but donor countries are refusing. The resource needs of Angola versus Brazil are very different,” he said.

As a middle-income country, Brazil needs to recognise it will have to pay for most of its conservation efforts through domestic resources, he believes. Colombia is providing a good example of how this could be done, paying by combining foreign aid assistance from the Green Climate Fund with philanthropic finance and a portion of its carbon market revenue. “This is what a progressive middle-income country should be doing,” said Deutz.

There is currently a lack of leadership pushing towards higher ambition, he said. COP15 host China was mostly working behind the scenes, he noted. “They have not done the kind of global outreach to civil society and the private sector that the UK did in the lead up to the COP26 climate talks,” he said.

“The worry that we were hearing in the corridors, particularly around financing, is that it’s going to be harder to meet some of the financing commitments – aid budgets are being redirected because of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, and a likely increase in defence spending among European countries,” he said.

The war was also distracting world leaders, making it harder for negotiators to bring their attention to biodiversity, he said. Deutz said he hoped the G7 meeting in June will be able to provide some leadership on biodiversity finance, but acknowledged that it will be much harder to get the issue on the agenda now.

However, Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, pointed out that leadership has always been lacking. “Nature can’t always be pushed to the second tier of priorities, when it’s foundational to every issue on the planet and is the foundation of all of our livelihoods and economies. So it has to be issue number one, convenient or not.”

Progress on protecting 30% of land and sea

More positively, Target Three, to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean, continues to have significant support. There are now 91 members of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, an intergovernmental group formed to champion the proposal. 

During the Geneva meetings, several countries expressed their support for the target for the first time – some of whom had previously questioned it – as long as it was clear that countries could determine their contribution to the global target according to national circumstances.

Time alone isn’t the problem here, it’s the lack of a sense of urgency
Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature

Also in Target Three, new language was included to better indicate the importance of the role of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in achieving the target, and to more explicitly protect their rights.

IPLCs have expressed mistrust in Target Three, due to the record of human rights abuses in the name of conservation. A report by Indigenous People’s Rights International outlines many recent examples, including harassment and torture of people collecting vegetables in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park in 2021.

Jennifer Tauli Corpuz, member and negotiator for the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, said it would have refused to support Target Three if there was no clear statement on respect for IPLC rights.

“Without safeguards, the risk is it would continue as before, with further evictions, killings and criminalisation of indigenous peoples,” she said. However, a caveat had been added to the new language – that IPLC rights must be “in accordance with national legislation”.

“There are many countries that don’t have legislation recognising indigenous peoples’ rights, so we feel that this is a big loophole for them,” according to Corpuz.

Business and the prospects for COP15

A positive development in Geneva was the engagement of the private sector. About 35 businesses attended the meetings, including consumer goods giant Unilever and clothing retailer H&M, according to Eva Zabey, executive director of the Business for Nature (BfN) coalition.

“Some made statements in the official sessions, and that resonated well because it’s a newer, louder voice of progressive businesses engaging in the process,” she said. BfN is calling for mandatory assessment and disclosure of impact and dependencies on nature by business. Much of the text on this remains in brackets, but several countries support the idea, Zabey reported.

Feelings are mixed on the chance of success at COP15 in Kunming. Many fear that the session in Nairobi, and additional virtual meetings on finance, may not be enough to unlock agreement.

“Two years of virtual negotiations have made it impossible for countries to solidify their own positions, let alone start the real bare-knuckle negotiations,” said Deutz, adding that the Geneva session “got us over the hump” to where negotiators were actually discussing text on the table. “But there’s just not a lot of time to COP15.”

O’Donnell said: “We could have spent another week in Geneva, and I’m not sure it would have fully resolved the issues. Time alone isn’t the problem here, it’s the lack of a sense of urgency. Countries need to take an approach that is less about each trying to defend their individual priorities, more thinking about the systems on the planet as a whole, and how we can develop a biodiversity framework that will address this crisis.”

This article was first published by China Dialogue.

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