Hollow biodiversity finance by rich creates trust deficit ahead of COP16

Most developed countries (23 out of 28) do not provide even half of their fair share of biodiversity finance.
Several assessments indicate human activities have damaged the integrity of the biosphere.
Several assessments indicate human activities have damaged the integrity of the biosphere.

CHENNAI: In 2022, countries that are Party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the main multilateral governance entity for biodiversity, adopted the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework to address the growing challenges posed by biodiversity loss. The Framework commits Parties to a list of specific targets, one of which is to provide at least $20 billion a year to developing countries by 2025, increasing to at least $30 billion a year by 2030.   While such finance is an agreed-upon responsibility dating back to the Convention’s establishment in 1992, it was for the first time the inclusion of an explicit quantified dollar target for biodiversity finance was achieved.

It is a very modest amount compared to the actual biodiversity loss and finance gap, which is pegged at $700 billion a year between now and 2030 - 35 times greater than the $20 billion amount.

Several assessments indicate human activities have damaged the integrity of the biosphere to the extent that we are no longer in a ‘safe operating space’, and can expect compounding and cascading risks due to biodiversity loss. As per the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) 2019 report, an estimated 1 million species – a quarter of known species globally – currently face extinction. Of the assessed species, 41% of amphibians, 27% of mammals, 21% of reptiles and 13% of birds are threatened, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report in 2022. Over the past 150 years, over 10% of the genetic diversity of plants and animals is calculated to have been lost. Despite the magnitude of the problem, the rich countries, who are party to the Convention, have shown utter disregard to the $20 billion commitment.

Only two countries obliged

Earlier this month, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a global affairs think tank published a report looking at each developed country’s fair share of the $20 billion (noting that this is a minimum target) based on each country’s historic responsibility for biodiversity depletion measured by ecological footprint over the past 60 years, capacity to pay, measured by gross national income, and population.

The report further analysed each developed country’s progress towards their fair share of biodiversity finance provision in 2021, the most recent year for which data was available.

Only two countries contributed their fair share of the $20 billion in 2021: Norway and Sweden. Germany and France come close to paying their fair share, and Australia is also not far off. However, most developed countries (23 out of 28) do not provide even half of their fair share of biodiversity finance. South Korea, Spain, Japan, Canada, Italy and the UK stand out for their poor performance in absolute terms: each should provide at least a $1 billion more (and $8.2 billion combined). Japan provided 16% of what it should pay, falling short of its fair share by $2.7 billion. This resulted in an $11.6 billion shortfall to the minimum target of $20 billion.

The poorest performers in relative terms are in southern and eastern Europe. At the very bottom of the ranking, Greece should provide 10 times more than it does, and Poland should provide 20 times more. Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal and Slovenia also provide less than 15% of their fair share. While the absolute volume of biodiversity finance these countries should provide is small, their failure to meet this target may reflect the low importance they assign to biodiversity conservation.  

Falling short of the annual minimum of $20 billion a year would undermine the  Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s implementation and efforts to meet its targets.   

Laetitia Pettinotti, Lead Author and Research Fellow at ODI, said: “Failing to reach the target undermines the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and damages trust. But far more importantly, this failure represents a genuine threat to our shared prosperity, livelihoods, economies and health. We hope this report serves as a wake-up call for high income countries to fulfil their obligations – their contributions to biodiversity finance are critically important and must increase.”

Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, said: “The world is already spending $1.8 trillion each year on subsidizing industries that are destroying nature. The pledge of $20 billion a year is equivalent to only 1.1%, or about four days, of those subsidies. Wealthy governments have no excuse but to act with greater urgency to deliver on the promise that they made at COP15 to deliver finance to poorer countries by 2025.”

US sets bad example

One of the world’s largest and richest economies is not on the list of obligatory biodiversity finance providers. The US is a developed country, but it is not a party to the Convention and as such did not commit itself to contributing to the $20 billion target. Yet, the US is the country most responsible for international biodiversity depletion between 1961 and 2021, accounting for 42% of developed countries’ collective footprint and 18% of all countries’ footprint. It is also one of only two countries in the world that has not ratified the Convention.

The US currently provides biodiversity finance (albeit not under the auspices of the Convention), but its contribution of $0.89 billion in 2021 falls far short of its fair share as estimated using ODI’s methodology. To put the US’ biodiversity finance provision in context, it provided less than one-sixth of the biodiversity finance of the European Union member states – even though its economy measured by gross national income was nearly 42% larger in 2021.

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