By deploying a mixture of public spending and private persuasion, Canada is working to keep negotiations at COP15 – the United Nations biodiversity conference in Montreal – from breaking down in the meeting’s final days.
The first part of that strategy was evident on Friday when federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, together with Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, announced a $255-million outlay to protect nature in developing countries.
During a news briefing at the conference, Mr. Guilbeault said the majority of that amount – about $219-million – would be directed toward the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multilateral agency that supports sustainable development and benefits biodiversity in the developing world.
Canada has regularly contributed to the GEF, which is funded in four-year cycles. Friday’s announcement makes Canada the seventh-largest supporter of the GEF, Mr. Guilbeault said.
The contribution follows a $350-million commitment to international biodiversity made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of the conference last week. Combined with Canada’s allocations toward climate change that also meet international biodiversity goals, the total amount Ottawa has announced to benefit nature in developing countries in recent weeks amounts to $1.55-billion dollars.
“We know that we can’t get to our goal without continued support to countries who have a majority of the biodiversity but not always the means to protect it,” Mr. Guilbeault said.
An important part of that goal is the vision of protecting 30 per cent of the planet for nature, both land and water, by 2030. Conservation biologists say the figure should be considered a minimum based on studies of how much area is required to support a majority of the planet’s species in the long term.
Canada is one of several countries that has already signed on to the 30-per-cent target, but in the draft text of the global biodiversity framework, the number remains in brackets, indicating it is still in dispute.
Friday’s announcement was welcome news for international environmental advocates on a day when a mid-December snowstorm appeared to be the least formidable obstacle facing negotiators as they struggle to reach an agreement on a framework for the protection of global biodiversity.
Throughout the meeting, Canada, as host country, has shown a willingness to take to the podium and announce commitments at a scale that some hope will spur other countries into strong action on behalf of nature. But concerns are mounting that too little progress has been made toward the 30-per-cent target and other elements of the draft that would constitute an ambitious framework.
“I think ambition is being diluted as we speak,” said Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, during a separate news conference convened by a coalition of non-governmental organizations.
Rumours are percolating through the conference about what is on the table and what may be getting lost in the process. As one example, Alexandra Barron, who leads the ocean program for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said she hoped that the end result will not be to reduce the 30-per-cent target for oceans in order to keep that figure in the final agreement for land. That’s precisely what happened the last time a global biodiversity framework was negotiated in Aichi, Japan, 12 years ago.
An indication of the impasse in negotiations came late Tuesday when developing countries temporarily walked out of one closed-door session over the issue of financing.
By Thursday, as high-level talks began between government ministers at the meeting, Huang Runqiu, COP15 president and China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment, issued a letter to delegates indicating that he had invited pairs of countries to meet over key issues that remain in need of resolution.
Each pair matches a wealthy country with one from the global south with the aim of reaching consensus on a specific set of issues and consulting with other participants to find a way forward.
Among those paired is Mr. Guilbeault with his Egyptian counterpart, Yasmine Fouad, who are working to resolve issues around the 30-per-cent target as well as other targets related to land-use planning and restoration of degraded areas.
Meanwhile, ministers from Rwanda and Germany have been matched up to deal with the financing issue. Ministers from Chile and Norway are meeting around the question of how to share the benefits that come from digital sequencing information – the genetic codes of living organisms that are found in the natural world and that can lead to commercial gain.
The activity is part of a final push, as the conference nears its conclusion on Monday, with no one certain of the outcome.
“I think at the moment it’s a strange mix of optimism and caution,” Ms. Barron said.