Biodiversity funding talks in a crucial stage

Negotiators from over 190 countries sat late into the night on Thursday, trying to end the stalemate in funding talks as the Convention on Biological Diversity draws to a close.

It is hoped that a combination of rising pressure from poor countries, and lowered expectations from India and the U.N. may help to wring some monetary support from richer countries to help protect the world’s vanishing plants, animals and natural habitats.

While progress was made on other fronts, especially on marine biodiversity, several decisions were being held hostage to the budget debate. Countries are not willing to commit themselves to further conservation measures until they are sure that the money will be available to carry them out. A group of developing countries — the G-77 and China — have drafted an internal statement, threatening to suspend the implementation of the Aichi Targets (global biodiversity conservation goals with a 2020 deadline) unless rich countries come forward with funding.

Host nation India was among those that agreed with the sentiment, but reportedly helped to convince frustrated Africans not to formally release the statement. The Environment Ministry’s Special Secretary M.F. Farooqui noted: “When you work in an atmosphere of cooperation and optimism, there is no need for a threat to be made.”

Simultaneously, India sought to downplay expectations, with Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan saying a “political commitment” was more likely than any specific financial target.

“A high-level U.N. expert panel had estimated an annual funding need of $130-$440 billion to meet Aichi targets. We are not expecting those kinds of resources, simply because negotiators have not come with that kind of mandate at all. There is just no possible comparison between needs and commitments,” she said. “What we are expecting is a political commitment that there will be a structure on resource mobilisation in the CBD.”

She spent Thursday in a series of bilateral talks, coaxing parties into reaching some sort of agreement that can be announced as a successful result of the Hyderabad summit.

Rich nations want “robust baselines” — an assessment of needs and existing funding — as well as a solid reporting framework — to provide accountability for how the money will be spent, before they are willing to set any specific goals. Poorer nations proposed using data from the OECD — an organisation of all industrialised nations — itself as a baseline to determine interim funding, asking for a doubling of resources until the next conference scheduled for 2014.

“We pointed out that biodiversity aid doubled from $3.5 billion to $7 billion between 2006 and 2010. We are telling them to provide a similar doubling just until 2014,” said a frustrated Kenyan negotiator. “But they are not willing to budge… They say there will be zero growth.”

Senior Indian officials said they lowered the bar still further. Using the existing aid growth rates as a baseline, they are asking for a 12 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) to provide interim funding of just $10 billion a year.

United Nations Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner also echoed the lowered expectations. “It’s not a do-or-die moment here in Hyderabad,” he told reporters. “Biodiversity conservation is a long-term agenda, needing long-term investment.” He encouraged a focus on the U.N.’s wider environmental financial mechanisms rather than fixating on the resource mobilisation logjam at this conference.

For example, the United Nations Development Programme launched its own biodiversity framework here on Thursday, with $1.5 billion in funding — and an additional $3.5 billion of co-financing from partners — to help protect biodiversity and manage ecosystems in 100 countries by 2020.