Why Canada is opening its wallet at COP15 biodiversity summit
Canada opened its wallet again on Friday at the United Nations Nature Summit in Montreal, amid tensions over who should shoulder the financial burden of a plan to save the planet’s dwindling biodiversity, a conflict that threatens to derail talks that were once in take place in a decade.
The gathering, COP15, has been billed as a “Paris moment” for nature – a nod to the landmark climate pact of 2015. Canada is among a coalition of 116 countries committed to ambitious goals in a potential deal, including the protecting 30 percent of the planet by 2030.
But in echoes of a conflict that has dogged climate talks for years, developing countries, where most of the world’s intact nature still exists, say richer countries should pay more for their heavier burden of conservation — a key point of tension that Brazil prompted to lead an all-night strike that stalled negotiations earlier this week.
Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace climate activist who now represents Canada as the Liberal government’s environment secretary, was tapped this week as one of two “co-mediators” to help resolve conflicts an international framework to protect nature, including the tug of war between high ambition and a high price tag.
In an effort to push for a resolution, Guilbeault and Secretary of State Mélanie Joly announced on Friday that Canada would allocate an additional $255 million in new funding for conservation in developing countries. That’s on top of the $350 million Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged in the early days of the summit to help poorer nations with conservation efforts.
On Friday, Guilbeault stressed that Canada and other developed countries have heard pleas for support and that raising money will be important to ensure a final post-summit deal has ambitious conservation goals.
“We urge all countries to unite around the 30 by 30 initiative,” Guilbeault said earlier along with other leaders of the “highly ambitious coalition” at COP15 on Friday.
“Canada knows this cannot happen without adequate resources in every country in the world, as we have heard loud and clear about the need for support,” he said.
With calls to close a funding gap for global conservation estimated at $700 billion a year, Guilbeault also expressed hope that the conference could result in a commitment to fundraising, similar to pledges made at United Nations summits on climate change.
At the UN climate change conference in Sharm El Sheikh last month, nations agreed on a historic “Loss and Damage Fund” that will help developed countries, which produce the most emissions, compensate developing countries, where most damage occurs .
Guilbeault said he didn’t see why the Montreal summit couldn’t produce “something very similar” for conservation. But other experts have said a new fund would be a big challenge.
Environmentalists welcomed the new funding, with Climate Action Network’s Eddy Pérez stating in a press release that the pledge is a “strong show of solidarity and a strategic move that increases pressure on countries blocking progress on funding discussions.”
The conference is now entering its final days of talks, with crucial details on funding and structuring of a global agreement on conservation still in the works.
On Thursday, Guilbeault was tasked with resolving issues at the heart of the global deal, including the 30 by 30 target, alongside Egypt’s environment minister. As a host country but not an official leader – China is chairing this gathering but was unable to host due to COVID-19 concerns – Canada has taken a prominent role at the conference.
The new funding, which Canada pledged on Friday, is spread over the next six years and brings the country’s overall commitment to helping developing countries conserve wildlife in the coming years to $1.6 billion, according to the government.
That balance includes around $1 billion from an existing pledge to fund “nature-based climate solutions” in poorer countries.
Estimates of how much funding is needed to protect the world’s biodiversity vary, but a commonly cited figure says an additional $700 billion is needed annually. Environmental experts say nature is massively underfunded compared to efforts to tackle climate change, even though the two crises are intertwined: the world’s forests store billions of tons of carbon, for example.
Despite this, some environmental activists who attended the summit lauded Canada’s efforts to raise money for conservation and set an example at home. On Thursday, for example, Guilbeault signaled that the federal government would introduce legislation to enshrine its conservation goal — 30 percent of Canada’s land and water by 2030 — in law. The move drew recognition from organizations such as West Coast Environmental Law, Ecojustice and Greenpeace.
Others have lauded the government’s pledge to spend $800 million on four vast conservation areas managed by indigenous peoples in Ontario, British Columbia, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
However, pledges to protect more land and water could clash with promises to develop more resources. For example, in its new “Critical Minerals Strategy,” the government says it will strive to make Canada a leading supplier of minerals used in green technologies like electric vehicles, a pledge backed by industry groups like the Mining Association of Canada triggered enthusiasm.
But Guilbeault has also stated that the government’s conservation and reconciliation priorities could mean some of these minerals remain in the ground.
“It could mean that we decide not to track certain deposits because they are in very biologically sensitive areas, such as critical caribou habitats. Or we won’t bother with that other deposit because it’s in a very culturally sensitive area for indigenous peoples,” Guilbeault said during an interview with CBC radio on Friday.
“That means we’re making decisions that consider things other than just the money and just the economic value.”
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