At COP15, Even When the Goal Is to Protect Nature, the Money Still Comes First

At the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal, Latin American and African countries hope to reach an agreement on Monday on aid from wealthier nations

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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An area of forest on fire near a logging area in the Transamazonica highway region in the municipality of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil this September.Credit: Edmar Barros/AP
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The representatives of the countries participating in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal hope to come to an agreement on Monday on a joint document defining international conservation goals. One of the most important obstacles to reaching an agreement is a dispute over the scope of aid to be provided by developed nations to poorer countries, so they can protect their own ecological systems.

The conference, known as COP15, began two weeks ago in Canada, and for the first time in the history of the biodiversity convention, China is in charge of the conference – after it was unable to host the convention itself because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Similar to the climate conference held last month in Egypt (COP27), the main topic was the amount of aid that wealthy nations would provide to African and Latin American countries, where the majority of the world's biodiversity exists today, so they would be able to protect their natural spaces. This protection requires large investments in infrastructure for monitoring and enforcement, rehabilitation and compensation for countries to agree not to make use of mining in areas of rain forest and rivers.

Marco Lambertini (2nd from right), the Director General of WWF International, speaks during a press conference following the release of new COP15 text during the United the Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) at the Palais des congrs de Montral in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on Sunday.Credit: ANDREJ IVANOV / AFP

At last month's climate conference, the United States took the lead to reach understandings, but at COP15 it cannot play this role since it has not yet joined the biodiversity convention and only has observer status at the conference. The chances of this changing are very small, and it would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to officially approve the entry of the U.S. into the convention – Republican senators oppose joining international conventions on the environment.

Representatives of dozens of African and Latin American countries left the conference deliberations before the weekend in protest over not being able to reach agreements on aid. A few hours later, they returned to the discussions. One of their goals is to set an annual sum of $700 billion in aid. This amount will not be based on direct aid, but on the cancellation of various subsidies that today encourage activities that harm nature, such as cutting down forests for farming.

French President Emmanuel Macron committed his country to providing $1 billion in annual aid. Representatives of 13 European countries promised to increase their aid. Brazil argued it was necessary to reach an agreement on direct aid of $100 billion a year by the end of the decade. A few European representatives said countries that have become richer in recent decades, and first amd foremost China, need to join the international funding.

Activists protesting world leaders to "Stop the Human Asteroid" in the talks at COP15 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, last Thursday.Credit: Graham Hughes/AP

Another focal point of the conference’s deliberations is the target of granting protected status to 30 percent of the land on the planet by the end of the decade. This issue led to disputes over the precise definition of what is protected space and what uses can be made of these areas. Representatives of developing nations want to allow – at least in a controlled manner – activities such as cutting down forests. Implementing this goal also depends to a great extent on making funding available to countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These countries have the greatest concentration of rain forests.

Protecting the 30 percent by 2030 – known as 30 by 30 – is a “headline target, Zac Goldsmith, Britain’s minister for the environment told the Associated Press. But it can’t be delivered “without a whole range of other things being agreed as well,” and without financing. “We’re not going to have it unless other countries do as Costa Rica has and break the link between agricultural productivity and land degradation and deforestation. And we’re not gonna be able to do any of these things if we don’t address… subsidies.” Britain drew harsh criticism last week for supporting the international target of 30 percent by 2030 – but not setting such targets inside its own country.

Another controversial issue is the rights of native peoples in territory marked for conservation. Representatives of organizations for native peoples, mostly in Latin America, are demanding to participate in plans concerning the areas where these native peoples live – including preserving their rights to make use of genetic knowledge collected from nature and later used for commercial purposes.

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