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Countries have pledged to channel more money toward environmental protection — but that won’t be enough to tackle biodiversity loss if they also continue to pour cash into sectors like the oil and gas industry that are damaging the environment, according to the head of a top international environmental fund.
“The political challenge is not mobilizing resources, it’s something more complicated, [it’s to] stop investing in those activities that destroy nature,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), an international funding structure that assists countries in reaching global green goals.
On that front, “we are a million years behind where we need to be,” he warned.
His comments come as countries gather in Vancouver starting Tuesday to discuss how to boost international funding for nature conservation. As part of the meeting, Rodríguez is set to launch a new fund to support developing countries in reaching ambitious nature conservation targets agreed at last year’s global COP15 biodiversity summit.
The creation of the fund was a key condition for developing countries to back the final agreement. They argued they should be paid for efforts to protect biodiversity — particularly when it prevents them from developing other economic activities, like fossil fuel extraction, forestry or agriculture.
As part of the deal, countries pledged to raise $200 billion for nature conservation from public and private sources annually by 2030. Rich countries agreed to contribute $20 billion per year by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030 to meet that global goal — money that Rodríguez said he hopes will flow through the new fund.
That’s not guaranteed: Countries can also decide to contribute money through bilateral partnerships, instead of going through the GEF.
According to Rodríguez, the new fund will make it easier and faster for developing countries to access cash, with 36 percent of the money going to least developed countries and small island developing states, and 20 percent toward supporting indigenous peoples and local communities.
To kick off the fund, the GEF needs to raise $200 million from rich donor countries by December. The aim is for it to become a key mechanism to achieve the global $200 billion goal agreed last year.
Hitting this global target “is doable,” Rodríguez argued, as long as countries set “the right conditions for development banks and private banks … [and] for the private sector to fully internalize the negative externalities of contributing to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.”
Still, that money won’t help countries reach ambitious global goals if it’s not combined with measures to address the root causes of biodiversity loss, he warned.
Subsidies for activities harmful to the environment are estimated at between $500 billion and $1.8 trillion a year worldwide. At COP15 last year, countries pledged to cut $500 billion in environmentally harmful subsidies.
This week’s meeting “certainly should be where we start this conversation,” said Masha Kalinina, senior officer for international conservation at Pew Charitable Trust, adding that it should be continued “in a serious way” at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
The new fund, she added, is key to helping ensure that nature conservation becomes “economically viable” and “the best economic alternative … to harmful activities that destroy biodiversity.”
But Rodríguez said he isn’t optimistic that countries will divert funds away from harmful activities any time soon.
“I don’t think that this is going to happen if we still have petro-nations chairing the climate convention,” he said, referring to the COP28 climate summit taking place in Dubai later this year. The United Arab Emirates’ appointment of Sultan Al-Jaber, who runs the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, to head the talks has sparked controversy.
There needs to be a radical shift in global leadership to turn the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss, he stressed, adding that he found it “worrisome” that environment and climate ministers couldn’t agree on a plan to phase out fossil fuels at last month’s G20 meeting and that Amazon countries failed to commit to end deforestation by 2030 earlier this month.
“We need a change of guard,” he said. “We need a new generation of politicians that really believes in science, and really understands the tradeoffs and can help us move the society with these irrational consumption and production systems into a circular economy.”