Can the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund Save the Planet’s Life Support System?

Can the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund Save the Planet’s Life Support System?

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, efforts to secure funding for biodiversity conservation have been ongoing. A significant development occurred on August 27, 2023, when countries established the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF) at the 7th Assembly of the Global Environment Facility in Vancouver, Canada. This fund, managed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), aims to address the persistent financial challenges associated with biodiversity protection, particularly concerning the 23 targets outlined in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF), adopted at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in December of the previous year.

The task ahead is formidable, with an estimated global need of at least $200 billion annually until 2030 for biodiversity protection, as highlighted during COP15. Unlike the previous funding model relying on 40 donors, GBFF will source funds from private, philanthropic, and government investments, signaling a departure from the norm. Additionally, it will have access to funds allocated for biodiversity conservation under GEF, with a cumulative budget of $5.25 billion for 2022-26, allocating 36% to biodiversity and the rest to projects addressing climate change, pollution, land, and ocean health.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, GEF’s chairperson, emphasizes the need to not only increase funds but also to spend them in a way that maximizes impact. GBFF may also tap into a proposed multilateral fund generated from fees related to the commercial use of digital genetic sequence information, potentially generating over $15 billion annually, according to Covington & Burling LLP.

The financing challenge remains substantial, as evidenced by the $124 to $143 billion spent on biodiversity conservation in 2019 against the estimated need of $722 to $967 billion. If GBFF falls short, countries may need to seek additional domestic funds, a historically challenging endeavor, particularly for developing nations. The current trajectory suggests a looming $4.1 trillion financing gap for biodiversity by 2050, as outlined in the “State of Finance for Nature” by the UN Environment Programme in May 2021.

The KMGBF’s target 19 introduces various nature-based solutions, such as payment for ecosystem services, green bonds, and benefit-sharing mechanisms, often categorized under the term “blended finance,” combining public and private resources. However, evidence from climate change financing suggests that this approach may not yield desired results promptly. Innovative solutions like biodiversity credits, similar to carbon credits but designed to generate funds rather than offset negative impacts on biodiversity, are gaining traction. Yet, their implementation, including regulation, certification schemes, and policy frameworks, is still under discussion.

Countries could potentially save $1.25 trillion directly and $7 trillion indirectly by eliminating existing subsidies for activities harmful to biodiversity. Despite the financial challenges, there is a recognition that investing in biodiversity is crucial, considering that over 50% of the global GDP, around $44 trillion, is highly or moderately dependent on nature and its services.

The inaugural meeting of the GBFF council is scheduled for January, aiming to approve the work plan for the June 2024 council meeting. While the fund has secured the $200 million needed as seed capital, the focus now shifts to securing the conservation funds required.

However, challenges persist at the national level. India, for instance, has reduced the budget for its environmental protection schemes between 2018 and 2024, as reported in Envistat 2023. The country’s biodiversity funding needs, as assessed in various reports, still present a significant financial gap, with ongoing efforts to analyze government documents for more accurate estimates.

Beyond financial constraints, the global community faces challenges in achieving biodiversity targets, such as protecting at least 30% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030 (30×30 target). While KMGBF includes indigenous people and local communities in this calculation, experts argue that the target is watered down, and the allocation of funds to these communities could be susceptible to capture by entities serving large conservation corporations.

The inclusion of other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) in protected areas, a key component of KMGBF, introduces uncertainties regarding their effectiveness, evaluation tools, and potential risks. Additionally, achieving targets related to invasive alien species and minimizing the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on biodiversity presents further challenges.

The effectiveness of these changes will become clearer at COP 16 in October next year when member countries submit their revised National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans. While some countries have initiated this process, the overall success of the KMGBF and GBFF in addressing global biodiversity challenges remains a work in progress.