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Vancouver, Canada

What Does the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund Mean for Colombia and the World?

When the last biodiversity conference ended in December 2022, more than 190 countries were left with several urgent tasks. At that meeting, held in Montreal, Canada, the most ambitious plan in existence to save biodiversity—the formal term we use to refer to the entire natural environment we see and with which we coexist on a daily basis—was approved.

One of the biggest pieces of "unfinished business" was left to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), one of the most important institutions in the world of climate finance. If you have ever seen news stories about large sums of money coming to Colombia to protect the páramos or the Amazon, it is very likely that the GEF has been behind those resources.

Simply put, the GEF is a sort of "family" of different funds aimed at financing initiatives, projects and actions to curb climate change and protect nature. So, when the last biodiversity conference ended, the GEF was left with one of its main tasks: to create a new "stock exchange" exclusively for biodiversity as soon as possible.

This proposal, brought to the table by the Colombian delegation, aims to gather resources quickly in the next eight years, because by 2030 the ambition is to have reversed the loss of biodiversity, according to the major goal included in the "Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework".

This week, during the GEF assembly in Vancouver, Canada, it was learned that the goal of creating the fund was met. Amidst the applause of thousands of delegates, the GEF council approved the "Global Biodiversity Framework Fund" (GBFF).

During the approval plenary, attended by representatives from at least 100 countries around the world, delegates were seen wearing masks, and not because of Covid-19. Those of us who attended the assembly received dozens of warnings about the city's air quality, deteriorated by the thousands of forest fires that have been recorded in Canada this summer, in a record season for the country. This situation, several delegates recalled during the assembly, is another reason to support the fund that seeks, among other things, to protect Canadian forests, species and citizens that are currently being affected by the fires.

So far, the only confirmed donor country is Canada, which will allocate 200 million Canadian dollars (some 147 million US dollars); the United Kingdom, for its part, has pledged 10 million pounds sterling (some 12 million US dollars), although it clarified that, due to its "fiscal cycles", it cannot yet donate resources. Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, director of the GEF, indicated that he expects more money to start flowing into the fund next year, before the next biodiversity summit at the end of 2024.

By 2030, the biodiversity agreement aims to mobilize at least US$200 billion annually in domestic and international funding from the countries with the most resources, other governmental and subnational organizations, the private sector, philanthropic organizations and other non-profit sources.

But what will all this money be used for? To which countries will it go? How can it be useful to Colombia?

Saving biodiversity is worth a lot of money

It is important to emphasize that all the resources collected by the fund will be used to meet the objectives of the Global Biodiversity Agreement. This includes 23 goals covering the conservation of vulnerable ecosystems, the protection of endangered species and minimizing the impacts of activities such as agriculture, livestock and fishing.

Basically, the agreement intends that during the next six years and a few months the countries of the world radically change some of their practices and improve their relationship with biodiversity as quickly as possible.

Making all these transformations in such a short period of time requires a great deal of resources. In other words, meeting the level of ambition of the global biodiversity framework also needs a commensurate level of silver. How much? Although there are various estimates, one figure was repeated this week in Vancouver: $700 billion per year.

Now the idea of this new fund is, precisely, that countries with more resources allocate part of the money so that nations with fewer resources, but with more biodiversity, can meet the agreed goals.

In the case of Colombia, there is still no specific figure for the money needed to achieve the goals. But Sandra Vilardy, Vice Minister of Environment, said that "the gap is very big", while leaving one meeting to another in Vancouver. She has the following example to explain it: only one of the 23 targets in the agreement refers to the fact that, by 2030, 30% of degraded areas must be in the process of active restoration.

"In the country there are about 30 million degraded hectares, which means that we would have to restore about 10 million hectares. On a 'gross' average, restoring one hectare could be $15 million. So let's do the math on how much would have to be invested," he said.

And this is just an estimate of the resources the country would need to meet one of the goals, but there are many other problems that Colombia must solve regarding its biodiversity, such as hippos.

According to the estimate made by a group of scientists, and published in the journal Scientific Reports, the most economical strategy to eradicate hippopotamuses in Colombia, the sterilization of males, would cost the country between 500,000 and more than one million dollars, that is, between $2,250 and $4,500 million (pesos). In spite of this, this strategy would only eliminate the invasive species in 60 years. The most effective measure, euthanasia, would cost up to $1.5 million dollars.

In short, dealing with all of Colombia's biodiversity problems effectively and quickly by 2030 will cost a lot of money. But there is another important conversation: which countries and actors will it reach?

The promise of including indigenous peoples

Asked what to do about the apparent shortfall in resources needed for climate action and for nature, Valerie Hickey, director of Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy at the World Bank, said that while it is true that much more money is needed, there is another equally important issue: the quality of that money.

This quality, she explained, refers to the access and impact of the resources. In other words, that those resources are getting to where they are needed, so that they are invested quickly and effectively.

A good case to illustrate how international resources are not always of good quality is that of indigenous peoples. Although they keep their territories remarkably well conserved—one study found that 91% of their territories are ecologically sound—the money to support this conservation often does not reach their pockets.

During the last biodiversity summit, one of the main requests of Fanny Kuiru, who is now the leader of the Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica (Coica), was that: that financial resources go directly to the indigenous women who conserve nature.

"It is the request that I take to all these spaces: we need the funding to go directly to the women who are really the ones who restore the territory, reforest it," she explained. "Only a minimum percentage of the cooperation resources reach the communities."

Research by Rainforest Foundation Norway concluded a few years ago that of the resources pledged to support indigenous peoples' and local communities' forest management between 2011 and 2020, only 17% went to projects actually run by these communities or their organizations.

Although there are several possible reasons behind this problem, María Pía Hernández, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, pointed out that one of the main obstacles is intermediaries. "All the actors before the indigenous peoples charge money to be able to operate, so little money arrives, and in the end there is a lack of participation by the final beneficiaries," she explained.

The problem is made worse by how difficult it has been for indigenous peoples to position themselves as partners in actions to preserve biodiversity, a role they are increasingly demanding. "It is the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples that today maintain 80% of the planet's biodiversity," said Darío Mejía, chair of UN Permanent Indigenous Peoples' Issues. If these knowledge and practices are not supported, he added, "it is not only the indigenous peoples who lose, but the planet as a whole."

Rodríguez, director of the GEF, acknowledged that the new fund will aim to solve part of this problem and allocate direct resources to various sectors of society. He announced that, as an "aspirational" goal, at least 20% of the resources should be allocated to initiatives led by indigenous peoples and that the most vulnerable countries will receive 36% of the resources.

In response to this announcement, which was welcomed by several organizations, there was some criticism from some sectors of civil society. Avaaz, a civil society activist group, asked that the fund remove the expression "aspirational" goal and that giving 20% of the new fund's resources to indigenous peoples be a fixed goal.

Will a new fund be enough?

Although the announcement of the new fund was celebrated in Vancouver, the Colombian delegation that came to Canada recognizes that other measures will probably be needed. "The fund has already been created, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about what will be the real commitments of donor countries to finance biodiversity," said María Teresa Becerra, head of International Affairs at the Ministry of Environment.

For this reason, she added, the country knows that international cooperation resources cannot be the only answer for countries like Colombia to respond to the biodiversity crisis they face. "We need innovative financial mechanisms such as debt swap mechanisms or green or blue bonds," said Becerra.

President Gustavo Petro has taken his proposal to swap the debt of countries in exchange for climate actions to several international scenarios. According to Becerra, the Ministry of Environment is developing, together with a group of experts, a portfolio of innovative financing options for biodiversity and climate change initiatives. "The priority is to look for options because this is a challenge that Colombia and other countries face," he added.

There is another actor that has been mentioned a lot when talking about the money needed to protect the world's biodiversity: the private sector. Although the new fund is open-ended and therefore aims to receive resources from any sector, for some there is still a long way to go with actors such as banks.

A spokeswoman for the GEF, who asked not to be named, said that research is only now beginning to be done on the risks that biodiversity loss would bring to banks' profits and operations. "Until there is a calculation of how much they would lose from this crisis, it will be possible to convince them to give more money," she 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 El Espectador on August 27, 2023 and has been translated from Spanish and lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Colombia does not yet have a precise figure for the budget needed to achieve the objectives of the Global Biodiversity Framework / Credit: EFE - Luis Eduardo Noriega A.