In Economic Crisis, Conservation Funding More Important Than Ever

Two years ago in Nagoya, Japan, 193 countries meeting for the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed on 20 targets to reduce global pressures on our natural world. Known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, these goals cover everything from avoiding extinctions of threatened species to reducing subsidies that are harmful to the environment to protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land and 10 percent of its seas by 2020.

Yet more than a year and a half later, little progress has been made toward these targets. Only about 13 percent of land and 1.6 percent of our oceans currently lie within protected areas, and half of nature’s most important sites remain unprotected.


Young male tiger. There may be as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild. (© CI/Photo by Frank Hawkins)

Why the slow pace? Among other challenges, the global economic crisis looms at the forefront of many world leaders’ minds. Funding conservation work is simply not seen as a priority. However, this separation of economy and environment is a false dichotomy. Protecting our planet’s ecosystems and species today is critical for a growing human population that is dependent on the fresh water, food and many other resources that would cease to exist without intact natural areas.

The Aichi Targets set in Japan were headed in the right direction, and went beyond direct conservation efforts — like creating protected areas — to really integrating biodiversity into our social economic systems for long-term sustainability. So how can we set these wheels in motion?

Even with political will, there is still a need for a lot of money — fundamental change usually does not come cheap. In the 20 years since the establishment of the CBD, there has never once been a discussion on how much money is needed and where to get it.

When governments meet for the next major negotiation of the CBD this coming October in Hyderabad, India, they will finally start that conversation by opening the first-ever negotiation to establish funding targets to achieve the CBD’s goals. If they manage to agree on funding goals and all 193 participating countries are moving towards meeting them, then there is a much greater chance of achieving the Aichi Targets.

I spent last week in Montreal for the precursor to the India negotiation, and while there were some positive outcomes, progress was slow and many difficult issues were left undecided. To set the stage for a successful negotiation in India, countries discussed the need to:

  • Agree on a baseline that funding targets will be measured against. If the target is set as “double current spending on biodiversity,” then the baseline is the number to be doubled. Unfortunately, countries preferred to leave this until the negotiations in India, so we can expect a complex debate about which baseline number to use before the discussion on funding targets even begins.
  • Acknowledge that we already know that the funding need is on the scale of hundreds of billions of dollars per year, which is more than enough to move forward with setting targets. Countries discussed preliminary findings from an expert group tasked with estimating the overall funding need — which they say is somewhere between US$ 74–120 billion — but this was not included in the final decision because the findings are still being finalized.
  • Emphasize the need to tap all sources of funding. Domestic budgets, overseas aid, payments for ecosystem services and other similar market mechanisms, debt for nature swaps and countless other potential sources will have a role, and this was acknowledged in the final decisions of this meeting.
  • Recognize that some of these sources will be better suited to funding certain kinds of activities than others. For example, there is an immediate need to fund the creation of new protected areas before ecosystems are destroyed, but once they are established the funding need changes to a yearly maintenance budget. Public funds are best suited to meeting the first need, whereas a variety of other sources can help meet maintenance costs. In Montreal, a plan was agreed to develop proposals for review in India on how the funding gap for each Aichi Target can be bridged using the most appropriate funding sources.
Lina Barrera

Lina Barrera

The CBD was originally signed at the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Next month, the 20th anniversary of that seminal event — commonly known as Rio+20 — is the ideal moment to reaffirm our commitment to conserving biodiversity and its contributions to sustainable development. The outcome of Rio+ 20 should send a message that funding targets must be determined and adhered to in order to ensure long-term well-being for all species — including ours.

Lina Barrera is the director of biodiversity and ecosystem services policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government.


  1. quick medical career job says

    “the global economic crisis looms at the forefront of many world leaders’ minds. Funding conservation work is simply not seen as a priority. ”

    Yes, this is the biggest obstacle to getting proper funding. World leaders are more focused on solving financial problems and unemployment in their respective countries that they tend to forget investing in a slower but longer term solution. However, I think if you can create a presentation showing a direct connection between conservation and increase in livelihood and living conditions then I think you can get their attention and financial commitment

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