MONTREAL – Delegates from dozens of developing nations walked out of crunch financing talks overnight at the U.N. COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal, citing a lack of compromise from wealthy countries as negotiations intensify to agree a new global nature pact.
Several sources said representatives of about 70 countries – mostly African states but also including Argentina and Brazil – left the meeting at about 1 a.m. in protest over a perceived lack of progress on funding for nature protection efforts worldwide.
Most of these governments had earlier joined forces at COP15 to call for a new dedicated biodiversity fund, saying that “existing multilateral (funding) sources” are not up to the task of implementing any deal that is struck at the conference.
David Ainsworth, a spokesman for the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – which is running the summit – confirmed the walkout to journalists on Wednesday morning.
While there were differences over several matters, the issue of the proposed new fund “seemed to have precipitated” the developing nations leaving the talks in protest, he said.
Under negotiations on a financial package for action to safeguard biodiversity – called “resource mobilisation” – the complex question of how funds should be deployed has become a central issue at the conference, due to end on Dec. 19.
Money to boost nature conservation is severely short, green groups have warned, with a 2019 assessment by several conservation institutes estimating a funding gap of more than $711 billion per year.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been the main source of financing for biodiversity protection since 1991.
Set up as a World Bank pilot program, the GEF has provided about $25 billion in grants to developing nations to date, and has collected $5.3 billion from donors for the 2022-2026 period – with 60% of this money earmarked for biodiversity projects.
The group of developing countries said a new biodiversity fund was needed to ensure timely and direct access to cash based on needs, and that it should “draw on lessons learned from the successes and limitations of existing funds” including the GEF.
These nations are home to many of the world’s most crucial natural areas, from rainforests to coral reefs, as human-caused destruction threatens up to one million plant, insect and animal species with extinction, according to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Speaking at COP15, Nigerian conservationist Joseph Onoja said it was hard for local groups in his country to access global funding to protect nature and biodiversity.
Such cash is often instead directed to international groups, he said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.
“Local organisations are the ones that are closer to the people, who know exactly the situation on the ground, who run the day-to-day activities,” said Onoja, the director general of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation.
“Why not send (funding) directly to have more impact?”
Concerns and compromise
The European Union, the GEF’s largest donor, has pushed back against creating a new biodiversity fund – citing the time it would take to set up.
“This is about looking at existing mechanisms and making them more accessible,” Ladislav Miko, a special biodiversity envoy with the European Commission – the EU’s executive arm – said earlier this week.
However, as ministers begin to arrive in Montreal for high-level political talks, Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said there has been some progress towards a compromise on funding.
“Clearly, we need to listen to what our partners in the Global South, and particularly the African countries, are telling us regarding issues of access, transparency and predictability,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Guilbeault said an idea to create a new fund within the GEF dedicated to the global nature pact – put forward by a small group of nations led by Colombia – was “very constructive”.
One of the countries pushing for a dedicated biodiversity fund is Brazil. Karen Oliveira, policy director of The Nature Conservancy in Brazil said it could unlock additional funding and facilitate implementation of nature and conservation programmes.
Oliveira said funds from the GEF had been vital in Brazil – from protecting oceans to reducing deforestation – but that its strict safeguards, bureaucracy and timelines make it harder for the nation’s federal and state governments to execute projects.
However, she struck a pessimistic note about the prospect of finding new funding as donor nations struggle with inflation and an energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The global scenario is not very receptive to create new funds at this moment,” Oliveira added.
Money on the table
The amount of cash on the table for the proposed global nature pact is expected to be hashed out in political discussions when ministers launch a final push on Thursday.
Negotiations over the shape of an agreement on resource mobilisation – including government funding for nature protection, along with other sources such as the private sector – aim to prepare the ground for those ministerial discussions.
The two-pronged approach now being considered would start with a two-year deal to spur action – such as Colombia’s plan for a new fund within the GEF – said Juha Siikamäki, chief economist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an environmental network including member governments.
The next step would be a longer-term plan to mobilise resources that is more tightly linked to the biodiversity framework countries are trying to agree at the summit, he said.
“It’s probably unrealistic to design and agree on a fully-fledged resource mobilisation strategy at COP15,” he added.
Green groups say rich countries should give $60 billion annually to help developing nations hit their nature targets.
At the recent COP27 summit in Egypt, nations including India questioned why a 2009 promise by developed nations to give $100 billion to help fight climate change had not yet been fulfilled.
Nigeria’s Onoja said it is key that more biodiversity funds start flowing to developing countries, and that wealthy nations should stop being “condescending” in talks on the issue.
“It shouldn’t be seen as if they (rich nations) are doing the developing world a favour by bringing money,” he said. “The Global South is also doing a favour by providing biodiversity.”