Nature Canada

Money could cost us everything: The rich world must commit to more international biodiversity aid at NatureCOP

As part of the UN Conference of the Parties (Nature COP) in Montreal, Canada has announced that it will spend $350 million to support developing countries in protecting their biodiversity. This was welcome news and shows Canadian leadership to motivate  other countries to follow suit. This will be critical because unless more resources are mobilized, squabbles over money threaten to water down or even sink the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Having shown its willingness to lead, Canada must not allow a desire to save dollars and cents to risk the collapse of nature and everything that depends on it – including people.

A main continued threat to landing a strong GBF is the disagreement over how much funding wealthy countries should provide to developing countries to help them meet ambitious biodiversity targets. The dispute is simple. Poorer countries, backed up by science, argue that they need support and funding to help them commit to and attain meet strong new biodiversity obligations under any  new CBD global framework. But many rich countries would rather keep their money.

The two sides are continents apart. Right now, the draft GBF requires rich countries to provide US $10 billion per year in international biodiversity aid. This is far too low. Conservation organizations have said that this needs to increase to at least $60 billion per year. A group of developing countries is calling for at least $100 billion annually to start. And they want funding to rise to $700 billion a year by 2030. This group has said that they will not sign the GBF absent this level of support.

In response to these requests, rich countries, including Canada, should put their money where their mouth is. In fact, they have a responsibility to do so. Wasteful consumption of resources by wealthy countries is driving nature’s decline around the globe. Habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and climate change all result from the extravagant demands of rich economies. The countries that are causing the bulk of the biodiversity crisis should be the ones to pay to fix it.

This is not just a matter of opinion; it is a principle of international law. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and articles 20(4) and 21 of the Convention on Biological Diversity all say that every country must work together to address global problems, but the countries causing those problems have a special responsibility to act. This is the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, and it must be respected to protect nature. 

But this responsibility is not really a burden on the rich world, it is actually good for business. The World Economic Forum estimates that $44 trillion of the global economy relies on healthy ecosystems. The decline of pollinator populations, fisheries, and native forests alone could lose us $2.7 trillion in 2030. Each wealthy country spending a few billion dollars a year will help avert these far greater costs down the road. In biodiversity protection, as with so many other things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Importantly, these global efforts will also help nature at home. For example, Canada hosts hundreds of iconic migratory species. Canada geese, monarch butterflies, loons, leatherback sea turtles, whooping cranes, and many other species that can only thrive if they are protected in Canada and wherever else they may fly, swim, or walk. Helping other countries protect migratory species supports global biodiversity and ensures healthy populations at home of wildlife that Canadians love.

Luckily for us, we already know what we need to do. The Green Budget Coalition has crunched the numbers and says that Canada can become a global biodiversity leader by spending $2.4 billion over the next four years to support nature abroad. The federal government should commit at least this much. One-off payments like that recently announced are great, but consistent annual funding is required. Around $600 million a year may sound like a lot, but it is peanuts compared to the $11 billion dollars Canada provides in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry each year.

If Canada and other rich countries are unwilling to help developing nations, the price of saving money today will mean the collapse of nature tomorrow.

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