Money at the heart of international efforts to save nature

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Geneva (AFP) – Can humanity limit spending that harms global biodiversity and focus funding on its protection?

This issue is at the heart of international negotiations in Geneva, which will pave the way for a crucial UN COP 15 summit on biodiversity in China later this year.

Nearly 200 countries are due to adopt a global framework this year to protect nature by mid-century from the destruction caused by humanity, with a key milestone of 30% protection by 2030.

These ambitions will only be met with a new approach to biodiversity finance and an overhaul of the colossal sums spent on nature-damaging subsidies, observers say.

Subsidies for things like fossil fuels, agriculture and fishing can often lead to environmental destruction and encourage unsustainable levels of production and consumption, experts say.

The exact amount the world spends on these harmful subsidies is debated, although the Business for Nature group estimates it could be as high as $1.8 trillion each year, or 2% of global gross domestic product.

Funding in general is among the most difficult issues to debate at the Geneva meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which runs until Tuesday.

“The mobilization of resources at this meeting has become a thorny issue,” said Ghanaian academic Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, who has played a key role in international efforts to protect biodiversity.

“It’s a balancing act. Globally, money has always been an issue.”

“Not Peanuts”

The draft text contains the objective of “redirecting, reallocating, reforming or eliminating harmful incentives”, reducing them by at least $500 billion a year.

It also includes a goal to increase total funding from all sources to at least $200 billion a year by 2030 and to increase international money that goes to developing countries by at least $10 billion. per year.

Last year, a study by groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Paulson Institute estimated that in 2019 the world spent between $124 billion and $143 billion a year on activities that benefit nature.

But they said the amount needed by 2030 is expected to reach $967 billion a year, which could include refocusing harmful subsidy funding.

Vinod Mathur, chairman of the National Biodiversity Authority of India, is asking for $100 billion each year in additional funding.

“There has to be substantial funding, not just peanuts. It has to be new funding, or additional funding and it has to be timely,” he told AFP.

Without it, developing countries say ambitious conservation targets will be impossible to achieve, a real concern given that the world has missed virtually all of its biodiversity targets so far.

Rich countries “recognize that there are additional efforts to be made”, according to one representative, although they disputed developing countries’ estimates of the financing needed.

Observers expect the private sector to play an increasingly important role.

– Role of the private sector –

Last year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Mike Bloomberg joined other philanthropists in pledging $5 billion by 2030 for biodiversity restoration and conservation.

The Business for Nature coalition has the support of more than a thousand companies which, like conservation associations, are calling for an ambitious text.

“Companies need political certainty to urgently invest, innovate, change their business models,” said Eva Zabey, director of Business for Nature, adding that many companies are ready to be held accountable for their impact on the environment. biodiversity.

As for subsidies, governments often champion them as helping the poor, said Ronald Steenblik, author of the Business for Nature study.

But he said “when you do the analysis, you find that in reality the main beneficiaries are very often the wealthiest”.

Some 80 percent of fisheries subsidies, for example, go to industrial fishing and not to small-scale fishermen.

But reforms can be difficult because entire industries depend on them.

As is often the case in international negotiations, the subject will probably only be resolved in the final stretch, during COP15 in China.