Nations Commit to Double Biodiversity Funding — But Is It Enough?

Last week in India, environmental economist and CI board member Pavan Sukhdev was named the U.N. Environment Programme’s newest Goodwill Ambassador. Below, he reflects on recent commitments to increase funding to protect global biodiversity.

A South American yellow-footed tortoise in Guyana. At last week's Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in India, most of the world's nations agreed to double developed country commitments to fund biodiversity protection efforts.

A South American yellow-footed tortoise in Guyana. At last week’s Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in India, most of the world’s nations agreed to double developed country commitments to fund biodiversity protection efforts. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

I’ve been a week in Hyderabad, India attending the bi-annual conference of parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 11). Over 170 of the 193 signatories to the convention worked away feverishly at Hyderabad until early Saturday morning, negotiating an outcome document as heavy as they always are.

These discussions led to a doubling of developed country commitments to biodiversity, from US$ 6 billion to US$ 12 billion by 2015. As I left Hyderabad, I wondered if I should be pleased or disappointed.

My recent work as chair of the high-level panel on estimating the financing required to meet the 20 targets agreed upon in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 was among the inputs to this process. However, our estimates of what was truly needed to achieve the 20 Aichi Targets were an order of magnitude higher than both existing baselines and commitments made. Will this US$ 6 billion increase make a difference when financing needs are in the tens and hundreds of billions?

Biodiversity is the living fabric of this planet, its ecosystems, species and genes. Conserving biodiversity includes:

  • Reducing forest losses and restoring forest cover (Aichi Targets #5 and #14) to increase soil fertility, prevent droughts, mitigate flood damage, stop the spread of desertification and provide better livelihoods for the world’s 1.3 billion small farmers.
  • Increasing marine protected areas (part of Aichi Target#11) and increasing the stocks of fish in the sea, which provide the main source of animal protein for over 1 billion people in the developing world.
  • Controlling pollution (Aichi Target #8), which will not just reduce biodiversity loss, it will improve human health, fresh water, agriculture, fisheries … the list goes on.

These Aichi Targets are a large part of sustainable development for the world — no wonder that their financing is not small change.

The results of COP 11 discussions were not disappointing in themselves, but it was sad that the wider goals of sustainable development for which they are essential were not receiving more urgent and widespread attention. Meanwhile, the need for transitioning to a “green economy” to deliver these goals grows more palpable and urgent every year.

The “silos” in which we all operate are part of the problem. Desertification and climate change fall under separate U.N. conventions, even though they are inextricably linked to the maintenance and restoration of ecosystems, the large-scale layer of biodiversity.

It can be difficult to see anything in perspective if one is immersed in it. Lucky for me, I had to fly from Hyderabad to Bhutan just after COP 11 to attend a conference of tiger range countries, organized by the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative.

I drove along the Paro River through mountain-flanked valleys from the airport to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. I was greeted by legions of fluttering prayer flags dancing out their hymns to the drumbeat of a bracing mountain wind. Far below, the crystal waters of the Paro sparkled in rhythmic company, flashing clear Himalayan sunlight. Carpets of red chilies, carefully laid to dry on the low sloping tin roofs of Bhutanese homes, soaked in this bright hot sun.

In Bhutan, biodiversity is everywhere around you, abundant and healthy. People love it and respect it. This is the kind of world that all those Aichi Targets seek to achieve, and it lives here for all to see.

Bhutan doesn’t have billions of dollars to finance this biodiversity conservation; instead, it is ingrained in the culture and history of the land. The country’s constitution commits 60% of Bhutan to forest cover. At the conference, Bhutan’s Agriculture and Forests minister says, “There can be no justice unless other living beings have equal rights of existence on this planet.”

We often hear of rights-based approaches to biodiversity conservation, but in Bhutan, this is not just dreamy talk — it is visible reality.

Pavan Sukhdev

Pavan Sukhdev

Pavan Sukhdev, an ex-banker, led the United Nation’s Environment Programme’s Green Economy Initiative and its study called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). He is now a McCluskey Fellow at Yale University and the author of the new book “Corporation 2020.” Pavan is also a CI board member. Read previous blogs from the CBD meeting in Hyderabad, or check out Pavan’s TED talk, “Put a Value on Nature!

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