'Total breakdown imminent': COP15 biodiversity talks on the brink over finance and subsidy reform row
Just five out of 22 targets have been agreed, despite less than a week remaining at the Montreal talks
Environment ministers from the world are set to descend on Montreal tomorrow to try and galvanise faltering talks to agree a global deal to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.
Their arrival comes as fears mount that a lack of consensus and ambition at the ongoing COP15 Biodiversity Summit could result in a toothless pact that fails to deliver the desired step change in nature protection globally.
More than 130 ministers are expected to attend the 'high-level' segment of the summit, which starts on Thursday and runs until midday on Saturday. UK Environment Secretary Therese Coffey and international environment minister Zac Goldsmith are both set to attend.
However, the mood at the conference remains downbeat as progress on key issues of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) continue at a sluggish pace amid widespread disagreement on issues such as finance, subsidy reform and nature risk reporting.
In the early hours of Wednesday, developing countries walked out of a meeting in protest over developed nations unwillingness to compromise on the question of finance for countries in the Global South, where much of global biodiversity is clustered.
While there is broad agreement that money needs to be collected to help developing nations protect nature, agreement has not been reached on how much is required and which actors would be responsible for providing it.
And debates are not contained to how much money needs to be mobilised and by whom. Arguments are also raging about the most efficient way funds can reach countries to ensure the goals of the GBF can be met by 2030.
While some parties are calling for funds to be raised through existing UN funds, such as the Global Environment Fund, others are calling for a new and dedicated biodiversity fund.
In a statement put out following the walk-out, developing countries wrote: "It is time to fulfill a mandate as old as our Convention and establish a funding mechanism that is dedicated to biodiversity, complementing the resource mobilisation landscape."
The group of developing nations said: "This would be a 'second generation fund', in the sense that it would draw on lessons learned from the successes and limitations of existing funds, with a view to ensure timely, direct and needs-based access by developing countries, making the CDB [sic] future-ready."
The countries, which include the nations in the African Group negotiating bloc, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Venezuela, added that the fund could emulate "the historic decision taken just a few weeks ago at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh to establish a fund on loss and damage".
Innocent Maloba, senior specialist of multilateral affairs at WWF International, told journalists on Wednesday morning that talks were "on the brink of a precipice" with "total breakdown imminent".
"Looking at the pace of the negotiations, it is quite worrying, particularly with regards to the discussions on the means of implementation, the resource mobilisation," he said. "We all know that the means of implementation are quite important in putting the framework into practice, but the process has been wildly slow. Now, make no mistake: All parties need to ramp up their ambition."
The COP Presidency and host nation Canada convened a special meeting of heads of delegation at 11am on Wednesday in a bid to smooth out some of the deadlocked issues ahead of the arrival of ministers.
The co-chairs of the negotiations on the GBF, Basile van Havre of Canada and Francis Ogwal of Uganda, said they had triaged remaining issues in order to accelerate progress. "We are on the right track and we think we are close to getting parties now to a level where they can move fast in making decisions move faster," said Ogwal.
"The trick is for us to find ways to have the ministers working in parallel, and that's why we started yesterday to do a triage of the issues," van Havre said. "There will be a list of to do list for the ministers, to do list for head of delegation and our own to do list."
Green groups have also warned that the goal covering subsidy reform - Target 18 - is careering towards being less ambitious that the goal agreed upon by governments 12 years ago in Aichi, a target which was resoundingly missed by countries. The target's central proposition - a call for the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies - remains in brackets, and specific mention of agriculture and fisheries as priority sectors for subsidy reform have been scrapped, prompting fears its final form could be toothless.
BusinessGreen understands Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Japan, and India are among the parties calling for the target to not include the term 'elimination'.
"For the past decade, biodiversity loss has been increasing has been accelerating, with one million species at risk of extinction," said Florian Titze, policy advisor for international biodiversity policy at WWF Germany. "[Meanwhile] leadership may decide that they agree on a target where we're doing less now than what we did agreed on 12 years ago. That is not the political signal that we need to go to the world to save this planet."
Roughly $1.8tr a year of public funding taxpayers money is currently spent on harmful subsidies for nature.
Target 15 around corporate and financial nature risk reporting, meanwhile, remains a forest of brackets, which indicate issues have not been resolved. Insiders told BusinessGreen that proposals to make reporting on climate risk mandatory at large firms and financial institutions are facing significant pushback from some parties who claim language that enforces legislation has no place in a UN biodiversity document.
Discussions over the target saw the lead of the Business for Nature campaign, Eva Zabey, given the floor on the request of the European Union to call for countries to stick to the mandatory language, arguing it would create a level playing field for those firms willing to measure their impacts and dependencies on nature and provide a level of granularity to investors of the nature risk embedded in their portfolios.
More than 330 companies have endorsed Business for Nature call for nature-risk reporting to become mandatory at large firms and financial institutions.
The latest version of the text on Target 15 has also stripped out a previous clause that would have seen governments take legal responsibility for infractions, through penalties, liability and redress for damage and addressing conflicts of interest.
Meanwhile the much-promoted target to protect 30 per cent of land and sea remains in brackets, despite being perceived by many as the headline goal of the GBF, alongside messaging for all actors to convene around the drive for a 'nature-positive' future. Discussions on the goal, Target 3, are expected to pick up this afternoon.
In more welcome news, negotiations on Tuesday afternoon saw the text on Target 14 around the 'mainstreaming' of biodiversity in policy and regulation cleared - bringing the total number of "clean" goals to five.
Ogwal said it was critical that discussions around resource mobilisation were ironed out, arguing the failure of the previous 10-year plan to protect global biodiversity -the Aichi Targets - had been partially due to a death of provisions around funding.
"This time around, the post-2020 global biodiversity plan should be a package that will have other aspects to it, including the building of the resource mobilisation," he said. "It should all be done at the same time so that you don't take a lot of time doing resource mobilisation, when actually [time] should be going into implementation. That is where the discussion is going to be very intensive."
He added that the eyes of the world were on Montreal and the delivery of a high-ambition pact for nature, which he conceded would be the "major outcome" of the biodiversity talks. "Without it then you would say we have not had a successful COP," he said." We are conscious about that and we will do our best to make sure that the GBF is delivered."
GBF talks co-chair van Havre said organisers did not intend to publish an explicit Presidency text of the GBF for parties to work from, unless it was explicitly requested by parties. "The tool to negotiate the framework is in negotiation with parties, and our belief is that parties are willing to engage in good faith negotiation, and that's the best way forward" he said. "If at some point parties ask us to do some drafting, we'll be ready to do it. But that is not the preferred way for now."
* This article was originally published here