The Global South advocates for $700 billion to protect biodiversity at COP15

The funding gap between what developing countries need for conservation and what rich nations actually offer has become a major sticking point at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal.

Hanging over the negotiations is an estimated $700 billion gap in the US that is needed to conserve biodiversity across the planet. So far, only about $17 billion in public funds have been committed.

“Without funding, none of this can happen,” said Jennifer Morris, executive director of the global environmental group Nature Conservancy, which produced the widely cited 2020 report highlighting the deficit.

Now, with just three days to go before the official end of the COP15 conference, environment ministers from the Global South are making their case, highlighting how more funding could help them save nature.

And they are gaining some momentum. In the months leading up to COP15, and even in the last few days, rich nations have significantly increased their contributions. About $7 billion US. of public funding committed so far was committed only from 2020.

Morris calls the money a “down payment” on the future of the planet.

Still from a tropical coast of Costa Rica off the Pacific coast
Aerial view of Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica. More than half of Costa Rica is covered in forests. (Stefan Neumann/Shutterstock)

Why is money important?

The developing world contains most of the planet’s biodiversity in its tropical forests and ecosystems. Costa Rica, for example, co-chairs the high ambition coalitiona group of 116 countries championing the goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030, which is being negotiated in Montreal.

Costa Rica’s Environment Minister Franz Tattenbach has been working in the negotiating rooms in Montreal to build support for an agreement. He says his country, which is covered in dense tropical forests and beautiful coastlines, shows what can happen with conservation funding.

From 1986 to 2013, Costa Rica’s forest cover doubled to 53 percent, according to government statistics. The country has funded conservation efforts with a tax on fossil fuels, reinvesting the proceeds to help landowners and communities protect their local ecosystems.

The new funding would help Costa Rica focus its attention on its ocean ecosystems.

“We need funds to advance our ambitious ocean goal of 30 percent ocean protection. Costa Rica has 10 times more ocean economic zone area than our land,” Tattenbach said.

The vastness of its oceanic area presents Costa Rica with different challenges than protecting its land.

Protecting the ocean will require new funding, Tattenbach says, because of the cost of running programs to monitor the area and funding things like sustainable fishing.

“We are 10 times bigger in the ocean than on land. And protecting 30 percent of that means protecting three times our territory. So it’s a huge challenge,” he said.

A man in a suit speaks at a lectern.
Franz Tattenbach, Costa Rica’s environment minister, has been part of the diplomatic push at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

difficult decisions

To limit global warming to 1.5C, which is the goal of the Paris Agreement on climate change, deforestation must end by 2030. Climate change and biodiversity loss are often called twin crises, meaning that one cannot be resolved without addressing the other.

But leaving nature alone comes at a cost: Everything from running conservation areas to paying people to protect them comes at a price.

And over the course of the summit, trying to close that $700 billion gap built tension. Negotiations reached breaking point earlier this week when delegates from developing countries walked out.

Fog envelops a mountainous rainforest.
Costa Rica has financed forest conservation programs through a tax on fossil fuels. (Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters)

Ecuador, which is also a member of the High Ambition Coalition, was among those who left the table due to a lack of commitment from rich nations.

Gustavo Manrique, Ecuador’s environment minister, said a country like his faces difficult financial decisions.

“Imagine my president making a decision, OK, $100 billion for a children’s hospital…or tagging whales to understand their behavior? [Which] would you choose?” he said.

“Without nature we cannot live. But children need to eat, tonight. Not tomorrow. Tonight.”

For this reason, Manrique said, the Global South calls on rich countries to help close the gap in biodiversity financing.

Ecuador’s range of ecosystems is prized for its rich variety, from the beautiful self-contained ecological system of the Galapagos Islands to the Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest.

But that biodiversity is threatened by deforestation caused by urban expansion, agriculture, mining and the oil industry.

Earlier this year, Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso announced the expansion of the marine reserve around the Galapagos. The reserve was already one of the largest in the world, but the additional 60,000 square kilometers cover a feeding and migration area for endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and whales.

“We reduced our fishing range because we wanted to send the world a message of maturity, understanding, conservation and balance,” Manrique said.

As the host country of COP15, Canada has put all its diplomatic muscle into achieving an agreement. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault on Friday pledged an additional $255 million to fund conservation in developing countries. Guilbeault has made it clear that Canada expects an agreement to be reached at the end of the conference.

Three men sitting in a small boat in the middle of a river, holding rifles.  Two dogs sit at his feet.
Members of a community guard patrol in the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of the country’s many biodiverse ecosystems. (Johanna Alarcon/Reuters)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *