Coronavirus a wake-up call to finance biodiversity

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COVID-19 has exposed critical gaps in the way the world treats and finances its biodiversity. The global pandemic presents a stark reminder that now is the time to reset humanity’s relationship with nature. How to fund that shift is the focus of an international biodiversity finance conference this month– moved online due to the coronavirus.

Governments spend approximately USD 500 billion per year in supports that are potentially harmful to biodiversity. That is five to six times more than total spending on biodiversity.

How to reform those harmful subsidies, the estimate needs for biodiversity plans, and find ways to engage the private sector were some of the topics of a three-day Virtual Global Conference on Biodiversity. The online event is being organized by the OECD Biodiversity Land Use and Ecosystems (BLUE) program, and the UNDP Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN).

More than 350 participants from governments, UN offices, and ministries of planning, environment, and finance from countries around the world logged on through Zoom for the first of three consecutive Wednesdays on April 15. The original plan to host the meeting at OECD headquarters in Paris was scrapped due to COVID-19.

 

The coronavirus is a stark reminder of the complex links between infectious diseases and biodiversity

“The coronavirus is a stark reminder of the complex links between infectious diseases and biodiversity,” said OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurria, in his taped opening remarks to the conference. “COVID-19 is a powerful messenger with a powerful message – our system is broken,” he added.

In his video remarks to the participants, UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, noted that COVID-19 will have a wide-ranging global impact. “The pandemic is more than a health crisis. It will leave deep scars on our world. This is a crisis that knows no borders,” he said.

Throughout the conference, participants reiterated that investments in biodiversity are investments in the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing directly to poverty reduction, resilience, economic growth, and sustainability. “Finance cannot be thought of as an afterthought,” said Steiner.

 

The Virtual Global Conference on Biodiversity Finance is one of many leading up to the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15)

The virtual meeting is one of many leading up to the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), which was postponed to next year. The aim is for COP15 to produce an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, with specific and measurable targets, to help drive the transformative changes needed to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.

Before the coronavirus, 2020 was to be the “super-year” for the environment with several planned international policy meetings, each with the potential to set nature on a path to recovery. Most of those conferences have been moved to 2021.

Ms. Brune Poirson, France’s Secretary of State to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition said at the virtual biodiversity conference, “We should use this crisis as an opportunity to rethink our recovery. If 2020 can look disappointing, it buys us time to keep building strong coalitions and finding innovations for biodiversity finance.”

Seychelles was presented as a country at the forefront of some of those innovations. Mr. Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, highlighted financial solutions the country is using to maintain its natural environment, with emphasis on its vast marine protected area.

Among the financing measures in Seychelles are efforts to green the tourism sector including raising airport service fees and increasing levies on cruise ships and passengers. The country is strengthening its cost recovery fees for more effective biosecurity services. At the heart of its approach is the creation of a Biodiversity Finance Unit within the government that will coordinate biodiversity projects and mainstream financing into the budgetary and economic planning processes.

 

BIOFIN methodology assisting countries in raising and managing capital for biodiversity

Participants to the first day of the conference learned about the overall BIOFIN methodology to assisting countries in raising and managing capital for biodiversity. The steps involve assessing national policies and institutions; measuring current biodiversity expenditures; making a reliable estimate of the financing needed to achieve biodiversity goals; and developing a biodiversity finance plan.

During a technical session on biodiversity expenditure reviews, participants pointed to some of the challenges they face in analyzing and tagging budgets to estimate how much goes towards biodiversity.

Dewa Ekayana, of the Indonesian Ministry of Finance, noted that biodiversity is a new expenditure category and “tracking it needs political will and capacity.”  He added that tagging and tracking are important to generate more effective budget allocation.

Finland’s, Armi Liinamaa, of the Ministry of Finance, and Marina von Weissenberg, of the Ministry of the Environment, Sustainable development and budgeting, both noted that up-to-date and accurate statistics are vital for effective biodiversity finance.

Fernando García, who works with UNDP-BIOFIN in Guatemala, spoke about some of the unique issues in integrating biodiversity into municipal budgeting. He emphasized that it is a long-term process. With high poverty rates in municipalities, biodiversity is not a political priority. Therefore, consideration should be made as to how biodiversity will improve livelihoods for the poor and provide much-needed resources for municipalities.