Environment ministers try to get Montreal biodiversity talks on track in final days

Environment ministers try to get Montreal biodiversity talks on track in final days

MONTREAL — A successful biodiversity framework to halt the devastation of global ecosystems and wildlife will require compromise from the world's wealthy and developing nations, Canada's environment minister said Thursday.

Steven Guilbeault is helping guide international nature talks toward a conclusion, with Canada hosting the COP15 in Montreal despite China remaining the president and chief architect of the summit.

After negotiations temporarily stopped Wednesday amid an impasse over how a resulting framework would be funded, they resumed Wednesday evening. Guilbeault said he feels confident that progress is now underway.

But there remains a chasm between wealthier nations and developing countries, with the former demanding a target to protect at least 30 per cent of the world's land and marine areas by 2030 and the latter demanding that the wealthiest countries come up with more cash to pay for it.

A framework won't happen unless both things are included, said Guilbeault.

“Those of us who want ambition, in the north, certainly need to understand that we need to be serious about resource mobilization, and those countries in the south who want resources to be mobilized need to understand that there won't be money unless there's ambition,” he said.

The Montreal talks began Dec. 6 with country negotiators taking the lead, and government ministers arrived Thursday for a three-day “high-level segment” to bring the toughest issues to a consensus.

Guilbeault said the hope is that a compromise agreement will be ready by Sunday, a day before the meeting is supposed to end.

But the finance issue still looms large, as does the amount required.

Estimates suggest US$700 billion a year is needed to conserve nature properly. About $200 billion would come from contributions from governments, the private sector and charities. At the same time, the rest could be achieved by redirecting government subsidies that harm nature, such as those for fossil-fuel projects.

That is on top of the commitment to fund climate action and adaptation measures at US$100 billion a year.

Developed countries are adamant that they cannot fund it all.

“It's doable, but not just with public money,” Guilbeault said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Developed countries are counting on private-sector financing and philanthropy to help bridge the gap. However, Guilbeault acknowledged that the business case isn't as easy to make for conserving nature as it is for developing clean technology to help slow climate change.

Lord Zac Goldsmith, the British minister for international environment and climate, said Thursday that to put the size of the need into perspective, the annual total of all government aid for everything — not just nature and climate — is US$160 billion.

“So even if we quadrupled all global aid and put all of it into nature, we still wouldn't quite get there in terms of closing that gap,” Goldsmith said.

Canada and the U.K. were among a group of developed nations that issued what they called a “donor statement” on Thursday, trying to prove they aren't falling on financing commitments.

It lists several existing pledges — including 7 billion euros from the European Commission between 2021 and 2017 — and a handful of new ones made in Montreal.

Early last week, Canada said it will increase its global environment financing by another $350 million to help implement a biodiversity framework in developing countries. Japan said Thursday it will increase its biodiversity financing by 114 billion yen, the equivalent of about $1.2 billion, between 2023 and 2025.

The “joint donor statement” calls the commitments “a breakthrough in addressing the twin challenges of climate change and nature loss as the world sees mass species extinctions and habitat loss accelerate at an alarming rate.”

The money aside, there is also a disagreement about how funds would be disbursed. Developed countries want a new biodiversity fund, because they say existing mechanisms are too slow. Wealthier nations do not want to create a new fund.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European environment commissioner, said he knows the biggest need is to make finance flow more efficiently, but that doesn't have to require a new fund.

“What's very important is not to concentrate on new funds, which, you know, the old problems are not going to be gone with them,” he said. “We have to look at the innovative mechanisms, which can help African countries, Latin American, countries in Southeast Asia to have accessibility to funds sooner than they have now.”

Destruction of nature has serious consequences for human health and prosperity, affecting everything from clean air and clean water to food security and economic growth.

The destruction of and human encroachment into wild ecosystems also creates health risks due to animal-borne viruses, an issue many people are more acutely aware of as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.



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