Canada works to rescue COP15 biodiversity conference on two fronts

Canada works to rescue COP15 biodiversity conference on two fronts

Negotiators are struggling to reach an agreement on a framework to protect global biodiversity at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Through a mix of public spending and private advocacy, Canada is working to ensure negotiations at COP15 – the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in Montreal – do not collapse in the closing days of the meeting.

The first part of this strategy became clear on Friday when Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly announced $255 million to protect nature in developing countries.

During a press conference at the conference, Mr. Guilbeault said the bulk of that amount – about $219 million – would go to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multilateral organization that supports sustainable development and benefits biodiversity in the developing world comes.

Canada makes regular contributions to the GEF, which is funded in four-year cycles. Friday’s announcement makes Canada the seventh-biggest supporter of the GEF, Mr Guilbeault said.

The paper follows a $350 million pledge by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the start of last week’s conference on international biodiversity. Combined with Canada’s climate change allocations, which also meet international biodiversity goals, the total amount Ottawa has announced in recent weeks to benefit nature in developing countries is $1.55 billion.

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“We know we cannot achieve our goal without supporting countries that possess much of our biodiversity but do not always have the means to protect it,” Mr Guilbeault said.

An important part of this goal is the vision to protect 30 percent of the planet for nature by 2030, both on land and at sea. Conservation biologists say that number should be considered the minimum based on studies of how much land is needed to support a majority of the planet’s species over the long term.

Canada is one of several countries that have already signed the 30 percent target, but the draft text of the global biodiversity framework leaves the number in parentheses, indicating it is still a matter of debate.

Friday’s announcement was welcome news for international environmentalists on a day when a mid-December snowstorm seemed the least obstacle negotiators faced as they struggled to reach agreement on a framework to protect global biodiversity .

Throughout the gathering, Canada, as host country, has shown its willingness to step up to the podium and announce commitments on a scale that some hope will spur other countries to take bold action on nature’s behalf. But there are growing concerns that too little progress has been made toward the 30 percent target and other elements of the draft that would constitute an ambitious framework.

“I think the ambition is being diluted as we speak,” Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said during a separate news conference convened by a coalition of non-governmental organizations.

Rumors circulate throughout the conference about what’s on the table and what might be lost in the process. As an example, Alexandra Barron, who leads the ocean program for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said she hopes the end result will not be to reduce the 30 percent ocean target to keep that number in the final accord for plots. This is exactly what happened when a global biodiversity framework was last negotiated 12 years ago in Aichi, Japan.

An indication of the impasse in the negotiations came late Tuesday when developing countries temporarily walked out of a closed session over the issue of funding.

On Thursday, as high-level talks between government ministers began at the meeting, Huang Runqiu, COP15 President and China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment, released a letter to delegates noting that he had invited pairs of countries to exchange views on outstanding issues Key issues to meet need of resolution.

Each pair brings together a wealthy country with one from the Global South to build consensus on a specific set of issues and consult with other participants to find a way forward.

Among them is Mr Guilbeault with his Egyptian counterpart Yasmine Fouad, who are working to resolve issues around the 30 percent target, as well as other goals related to land use planning and the restoration of degraded areas.

In the meantime, ministers from Rwanda and Germany have been brought together to deal with the question of financing. Ministers from Chile and Norway meet to discuss how to share the benefits of digital sequencing information – the genetic codes of living organisms that are found in nature and can lead to commercial gains.

The activity is part of a recent push as Monday’s conference draws to a close, with no one sure of the outcome.

“I think right now it’s an odd mix of optimism and caution,” Ms Barron said.

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