COP15: Negotiations hang in the balance, with nations clashing on nature finance

Pictured: A breakout negotiation session in Montreal this week. Image: UN Biodiversity.

Representatives from more than 190 national governments first began gathering in Montreal, Canada, since early last week for what is supposed to be the final part of the UN’s 15th Biodiversity COP. The COP has been running on and off since 2020, with host nation China choosing to move proceedings to Montreal earlier this year after having to implement multiple delays due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The summit is widely regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to accelerate global efforts to protect and restore nature. Attendees are seeking to deliver a treaty that will apply from 2020 to 2030 and unify nations in committing to end nature loss and accelerating and scaling restoration. Key targets include setting aside 30% of land for nature, reducing and reforming ecologically harmful subsidies, scaling international nature finance and improving corporate disclosures of nature-related impacts.

Talks were originally slated to wrap up on 17 December but have been extended to 19 December. Even so, observers have noted that the deadline may not be met as negotiators have failed to compromise and reach agreements on several key parts of the treaty. Organisations including charities, campaign groups, citizens’ initiatives and businesses are urging those present to urgently wrap up the treaty at this meeting, given that it is already two years overdue.

Several organisations observing the talks have told edie that the key sticking point is financing the delivery of a nature-positive future. As has been the case with climate finance, international financial flows for biodiversity conservation and restoration are far below the levels needed. The Paulson Institute estimates that the global finance gap for reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 stands at a minimum of $598bn per year.

Wednesday (15 December) marked a finance-themed day of proceedings at COP15. It also saw China, as hosts of the COP, organizing crisis talks amid a continued row about which nations should contribute more to international biodiversity finance, and which should receive more.

The row mainly concerns emerging markets such as Brazil and China, which some small, low-income nations believe should now be paying in more than they are taking out of international flows. At present, the two nations are the top two recipients of funding from the UN’s Global Environment Facility. Along with India, Mexico and Indonesia, they are set to remain in the top five for the next funding cycle through to 2026.

At the same time, some countries in the Global South are pushing for a new fund for biodiversity restoration. The EU, US and others are understood to be opposed to this measure.

Negotiators from some low-income nations have walked out and refused to return to the table until their requests are taken more seriously. Ministers from participating nations will be on the ground at the summit this weekend in an effort to help move discussions forward.

‘More joined-up thinking’

Investors have already announced several new commitments and collaborations to coincide with COP15, showing their intention to ensure that the private sector plays its part in supporting the new treaty.

Likewise, some national governments have come forward with new finance. The UK has today (15 December) committed £7.2m to a new ‘Nature-Positive Economy’ programme, which will support changes in policymaking and finance in developing nations to end nature degradation. A key focus will be supporting the uptake of disclosures in line with the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). Canada has captured much attention with an $800m commitment to large-scale conservation projects let by Indigenous communities.

But the consensus is that the treaty really does need to include a formal, global commitment with adequate measures to distribute finance and to hold donors accountable.

Hymans Robertson’s investment consultant Andre Ranchin told edie that it is “even clearer that some of the key shortcomings of previous biodiversity frameworks were financial in nature, including a failure to align financial flows with activities that safeguard, rather than directly harm biodiversity”. None of the targets set under the previous Aichi framework, for the 2010s, were met.

Robertson added: “While regulations like the TNFD go a long way to giving investors and financial institutions a useful way to not only report on but, also understand and act on their nature-related risks and opportunities, there needs to be more joined-up thinking that cannot be brought about by regulation alone.”

WWF International’s senior specialist for multilateral affairs, Innocent Maloba, said wealthy nations seem to be less ambitious on reaching a finance agreement than they did last week. He said: “As the countries with the greatest roles in driving biodiversity loss, through high levels of consumption, developed countries have a duty to support developing countries in the protection and conservation of the biodiversity that we all rely on. It is in their own self-interest.

“This is about safeguarding the natural world, and supporting the communities on the front line of the nature crisis. At its heart, this isn’t only about numbers, it is also about the most efficient way and effective way of getting finance to where it’s needed and today not tomorrow.”

Mandatory disclosures and more

Finance isn’t the only sticking point at the summit. Observers stated earlier this week that agreements were yet to be reached on wording for the vast majority of points included in the treaty.

The language around reaching nature-positivity is still under debate. The term itself is not defined in the text as it stands, and there is disagreement on whether reversing nature loss should be a requirement pre-2030 or to a longer timeline.

Negotiations around the 30 by 30 goal of setting aside 30% of land and water for nature have also been long and contentious. There are debates around measures to ensure that degradation does not happen in protected areas, and safeguards for human rights. Some nations with large Indigenous communities have warned that poor design of this goal could lead to land grabbing. A strong agreement here is widely considered crucial to a successful COP.

Nations are broadly agreed that nations should mandate large businesses to disclose their nature-related impacts, under target 15 of the Treaty. However, progress has not been made on a requirement for these businesses to halve their negative impacts this decade or explain why they cannot. Ministers will take this forward into the weekend. There will also be debates about what size businesses should be included and whether the mandate should cover finance.

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