Environmental pressures are evident across the world, with images of record temperatures, extreme flooding, intense and massive wildfires devastating homes and communities covered by deadly smoke.
The 7th Global Environment Facility (GEF) Assembly attended by 1,500 government officials and environmental leaders from more than 185 countries was held this week in Vancouver, Canada at a time when heavy smoke from wildfires shrouded some parts of the country. Experts urged a major rethinking of strategies to address climate disaster and accelerate a multibillion-dollar fund to support biodiversity conservation efforts.
“Nature loss and climate change are not worries for the future. They are realities today that will be front-of-mind for every single person as we gather in Canada, where this summer’s wildfires have burned forests covering an area twice the size of my country,” said GEF chief executive officer and chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Costa Rica’s former environment and energy minister.
At the Assembly, Rodriguez said they were able to chart strategies such as elevating the contributions of science to a healthier and more diverse planet; generate more funding from all sources to address biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution; and ensure environmental governance include the youth, women and indigenous peoples.
Among the issues discussed at the assembly was the launch of the new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF), which Rodriguez said, could boost investments in nature and support indigenous peoples and communities in developing countries and small island countries. The establishment of the fund was agreed in December 2022 at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Montreal, Canada.
“This new fund is aimed to support the strategic implementation of the global targets for biodiversity conservation. We really need to preserve and conserve biodiversity along the planet with ambitious target by 2030 by protecting 30 percent of the ocean and 20 percent of the land, and that we commit to generate sustainable activities regarding the use of wild and domestic biodiversity as well as boost research mobilization,” Rodriguez explained.
Climate change, biodiversity loss happening now
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday highlighted the ongoing wildfires and other climate-related disasters faced by countries across the globe.
“As we speak, tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in the Northwest territories where fires are ripping through British Columbia as all of you have seen from the smoke outside. Every part of this country has been affected this summer from wildfires destroying homes to communities becoming evacuees to respiratory problems aggravated because of smoke that travels hundreds of kilometers,” Trudeau said. “This is real and is being felt by Canadians from coast to coast to coast and more extreme weather events are being felt by vulnerable people around the world.”
To put in perspective, Trudeau said wildfire missions in Canada for the summer season alone are already twice the country’s record for a whole year. “The disasters we are facing as a world are not just bad luck, but that there is no more question they are driven by climate change and natural loss,” Trudeau added.
Trudeau announced that Canada will invest $200 million in the new fund to help halt and reverse biodiversity loss and put nature on a path to recovery.
Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, likewise said that the wildfires they are experiencing in the country serve as an “unwanted reminder of the need to act together with urgency.”
“It is critical that we accelerate global action by 2030 and address biodiversity loss as we need to support ambitious mobilization of resources. This is a start of a long climb, but we will keep working with our international counterparts,” Guilbeault said.
New hope with the new biodiversity fund
The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund aims to funnel $200 billion per year from public and private investments for conservation initiatives by 2030.
At the Assembly, Canada committed US$147 million (CAD$200 million) and the United Kingdom also pledged US$12 million (GBP$10 million to capitalize the fund).
“It is important to see enough resources in the new fund so we can start implementing conservation initiatives to support indigenous peoples and local communities according to their priorities. These initial contributions signal a good start to address biodiversity loss across the world,” David Cooper, acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, said.
Cooper reiterated that the contributions from donors which will facilitate the early operationalization of the fund in advance to Biodiversity Conference (COP16) next year, shows the determination of countries to implement the biodiversity framework.
The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB), on the other hand, said they welcome the target of 20% of the new fund directed to indigenous peoples and local communities.
“The approval of this trust fund with a specific commitment to Indigenous Peoples and local communities motivates and gives us hope that support will be achieved for the efforts to conserve biodiversity at local level,” said Lucy Mulenkei, co-chair of the IIFB. “This new fund could be a great opportunity to reach out further to where we are able to ensure that biodiversity is restored with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, women, girls, and youth."
Oscar Soria, Campaign Director of Avaaz, a global campaign community of over 65 million citizens, lamented that intensifying wildfires across the world is not only about the loss of human lives and livelihoods, but of the loss of species and their habitats.
“For Indigenous communities, wildfires can be particularly devastating. Many indigenous cultures rely on healthy ecosystems for their traditional practices, livelihoods, and cultural identity. Wildfires can damage their lands and disrupt their connection to the environment,” Soria explained.
Soria added that besides the impact on human health due to smoke and air pollution, in economic terms wildfires can indeed have catastrophic consequences related to loss of property and infrastructure. Economically, wildfires can cause billions of dollars in damages, from firefighting expenses to property loss and reduced tourism, he said.
“It’s crucial to prioritize effective wildfire prevention and management, but as indigenous peoples have a profound connection and knowledge of ecosystem management, including fire management, it is vital to support Indigenous-led strategies to mitigate these impacts and foster sustainable solutions,” Soria said.
This story was supported through Internews’ Earth Journalism Network's Reporting Fellowship to the 7th Global Environment Facility Assembly in Vancouver, Canada. It was originally published by Philippine EnviroNews on August 26, 2023 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault with minister Ahmed Hussen of Canada’s International Development and GEF CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez at the 7th Global Environment Facility Assembly in Vancouver, Canada / Credit: Imelda Abano.