Biodiversity talks ‘stuck’ over funding as Cop15 enters final stretch

Delegates are gathered in Montreal until 19 December 2022 to negotiate an agreement on biodiversity. (Keystone/Paul Chiasson /The Canadian Press via AP)

With only four days of Cop15 to go, negotiations for a deal to protect nature have hit a wall.

Ministers gathered in Montreal have until Monday to thrash out a new biodiversity agreement, but divergences, mainly over how to fund conservation efforts, continue to thwart progress.

“We are stuck on two fronts,” Marco Lambertini, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) told a press briefing on Thursday. “On one hand, countries are failing to step up and to provide the urgently needed finance to support efforts for conservation of biodiversity globally. And on the other hand, we are witnessing how some negotiators are continuing to dilute the ambition of the draft global biodiversity framework.”

According to the UN Environment Programme, countries should be spending between $598 and $824 billion per year to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. Developing countries tabled a proposal this week for the creation of a global fund for biodiversity – similar to the one adopted at the climate summit last month on compensation for climate impacts, otherwise known as loss and damage.

The European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and other countries have reportedly rejected the idea, under the argument that other mechanisms, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), already exist and can be tailored to suit countries' financial needs for conservation.

However, developing countries disillusioned with the GEF are also putting their foot down. “The GEF also services other Rio conventions and is not only exclusively for biodiversity, so the argument is that something exclusing is needed to make sure that there is clear and direct access to funds for biodiversity action,” Sonia Peña, director of the International Policy Centre at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told Geneva Solutions.

Hoping to thaw frosty talks, developed countries released a statement on Thursday, pledging to ramp up financial commitments for biodiversity in poorer countries. According to Peña, it hadn’t sparked much excitement from the other side of the isle.

Developing countries, such as Argentina, have also been vocal about the need for common but differentiated responsibilities to be recognised. “It’s a principle that is much more applied in the climate change scene, but that has been brought to the table as part of the discussions around resource mobilisation. More broadly, if you are asking developing countries for increased ambition, you also have to increase resources to make that happen,” Peña said, noting that developed countries challenged the idea at every turn.

Negotiators were also struggling to agree on other issues. A target to preserve 30 per cent of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030 continued to be debated as states disagreed on many of its aspects, including how to qualify what counts as part of that protected area and whether to mention indigenous land rights as a condition.

Time running out

The so-called post-2020 biodiversity framework is meant to lay out how countries will protect nature within the next eight years and beyond. After two years of Covid delays and slow progress to sort out unresolved issues, the clock for a successful negotiation is ticking.

“We're now entering the final stages, and parties to the convention have little time to finalise key agreements and to ensure tangible outcomes,” Amina J. Mohammed, UN deputy secretary general, told a press briefing on Thursday. “Our life support system is at stake.”

Negotiators have been meeting for the past two weeks to try to lift the roughly one thousand brackets marking unagreed language on the draft text. But divisions between the developing and developed world are so fixed that delegates seem to be at their wits end. A number of them from developing countries reportedly walked out of a meeting on financing just before 1am last week.

Mohammed warned that there was a “trust deficit” that needed to be rectified. “Over the past few years, we have seen that many commitments around financing for developing countries have not been met. And this has created a sense of mistrust,” she said.

In an effort to break the stalemate, China, who holds the presidency, sent out a letter on Wednesday proposing to create high-level informal consultations on the most contentious issues. The discussions were to be led by the ministers of Rwanda and Germany on finance, Chile and Norway on Digital Sequence Information, and Canada and Egypt on the remaining issues, including the 30x30 target.

Peña said that like most observers, she was “cautiously optimistic” about what the groups could deliver. “Some of the issues that are very contentious are also very technical in a way, so one has to wonder whether ministers have what it takes to advance discussions that have been dragging on for days if not years,” she said.

Peña noted that IUCN was working with delegates to try to explain technical aspects of the agreement that they still struggled to understand, which in some cases was the source of disagreement.

The co-facilitators are due to report on any progress made at the plenary session on Saturday. While there were rumours of a possibility of prolonging talks for a couple of days, Peña said that it was unlikely as it would mean delegates extending their stay and changing flights. The Chinese presidency has also signalled in its letter its intention to stick by the original timeline.

WWF’s Lambertini said: “Twelve years ago, the world committed to halt the extinction of species by 2020. We failed. We can't fail again.”