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China pushes new global biodiversity fund to help secure nature accord

Developing nations say they need more finance to conserve their natural environments—and China has floated the idea of a fund to channel billions of dollars to protect biodiversity.

China and African nations are pushing for the establishment of a multi-billion-dollar “global biodiversity fund” to help developing countries meet goals agreed in a new pact being negotiated to protect nature, UN officials and observers said.

About 195 countries are expected to finalise a new accord to safeguard the planet’s plants, animals and ecosystems at a two-part UN summit due to culminate in May next year in the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

The difficulty of meeting face to face because of the Covid-19 pandemic meant the summit was postponed three times and then split into two, with the first virtual session scheduled for October and preparatory discussions now underway.

Basile van Havre, co-chair of the talks under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said China and a number of mainly African countries are proposing a new biodiversity fund to help finance the goals of the pact, once agreed.

“The idea of increasing funding is a good one and we all welcome this,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Improving conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, is seen as vital to protecting the ecosystems on which humans depend and limiting global warming to internationally agreed targets.

But forests are still being cut down - often to produce commodities such as palm oil and beef - destroying biodiversity and threatening climate goals, as trees absorb about a third of planet-warming emissions produced worldwide.

Global annual spending to protect and restore nature on land needs to triple this decade to about $350 billion by 2030 and rise to $536 billion by 2050, a UN report said in May.

Georgina Chandler, senior international policy officer at the UK-based Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said summit host China was exploring the idea of a new fund.

One option is for a fund to be announced as early as October and then “filled” by the final session of the COP15 summit from April 25-May 8 next year, but details are not yet available, said Chandler, who has tracked negotiations for the last five years.

Chinese government officials working on COP15 did not respond to requests for comment.

Financial shortfall 

China’s hosting of a major UN environment conference for the first time is seen by green groups as an important step for the Asian economic power-house towards playing a more prominent role both domestically and internationally on biodiversity.

Some officials, however, have called for stronger political leadership from China to ensure a successful outcome.

On Friday, Beijing submitted a draft “Kunming Declaration” to the United Nations for consideration at COP15, urging countries to recognise the importance of biodiversity in human health and to endorse Chinese Communist Party slogans about protecting ecosystems.

The draft text for the nature pact includes a core pledge to protect at least 30 per cent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.

But conservationists have criticised low levels of funding pledged by rich countries to help developing nations do this, while many leaders are still relying on natural resources to bolster their economies and lift people out of poverty.

“When it comes to issues such as finance and implementation (of the new global framework), there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Li Shuo, policy advisor at Greenpeace China.

The first part of the summit would be an opportunity for governments to send signals on those issues, including whether wealthy nations are prepared to step up on finance, he added.

Li said a new global biodiversity fund could be announced with an initial contribution from China, to help steer talks on finance at October’s virtual meeting.

But some donors - including the European Union - believe such a fund is unnecessary as the Global Environment Facility already helps developing nations finance green projects, RSPB’s Chandler said.

A better understanding of the scope, purpose and priorities of a new biodiversity fund would be needed before deciding if it could make a difference to nature conservation, she added.

Brian O’Donnell, director of the US-based Campaign for Nature, said “significantly increased resources” would be required to make up a shortfall in funding to protect the planet’s fast-shrinking biodiversity.

A new fund would need to distribute tens of billions of dollars in grants each year, he added.

If it were able to get money to the ground quickly, had low running costs and was committed to long-term support for conservation, “it could be very beneficial”, he added.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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