Even before the Eleventh Conference of Parties (CoP-11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was inaugurated at Hyderabad, the battlelines were drawn in the two pre-inaugural press meetings.

Executive Secretary of the CBD Secretariat Braulio de Souza Dias spoke with the quiet confidence of an international official who had witnessed the discussions on CBD in the past 20 years.

Dias spoke softly, slowly but firmly, with the weary experience of a man who still manages to find the way out of a maze of national positions and square-bracketed text. We are gradually achieving our targets, was the message that he conveyed.

The members of the CBD Alliance, a network of NGOs and civil society organisations, took the platform next in the media briefing room. The activists were vehement, impatient. They wanted action, now.

Progress is slow, they said. International negotiators are even going backwards and re-opening some of the provisions of the CBD that were discussed and finalised earlier. There is no institutionalised financial mechanism to support biodiversity conservation, they stated.The CoPs to the Biodiversity Convention do not draw as much international media and public attention as the CoPs on Climate Change Convention. But the ‘official versus activist’ positions are more or less along the same lines.

Nagoya Protocol

The Hyderabad event is the first CoP after the United Nations declared 2011-20 as the Decade on Biodiversity. As is the practice at CoPs, India as the host country took over the chairmanship from Japan, the host for the previous CoP. Accepting the ceremonial gavel, Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, encapsulated the spirit of the times well.

“Having adopted an ambitious Strategic Plan for Biodiversity for 2011-2020, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, we are now at a critical juncture here at CoP-11, in the 20th anniversary of CBD, when we must agree to the road map as well as the means for implementation of what we adopted in Nagoya,” she stated.

The Nagoya Protocol pushes member-states to have a legal system to define access to biological diversity and traditional knowledge of its use through a system of prior informed consent.

The Protocol also lays the framework for sharing the financial benefits arising out of this access with the communities that have preserved the biological diversity and the traditional knowledge of its use over generations.

The Nagoya Protocol will come into effect when 50 member countries ratify it. According to Dias, six countries have ratified as of the present, and he expects around 17 ratifications by year end. In her inaugural address, Jayanthi Natarajan announced that the Indian Government had already approved the ratification on October 4.

At the CoP, the delegates are reviewing the progress made towards meeting the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets to be met by 2020.

Finding funds

The Aichi Targets include loss of habitats; sustainable fisheries; pollution; invasive alien species; vulnerable ecosystems; Nagoya Protocol; traditional knowledge; and resource mobilisation.

Jayanthi Natarajan also touched upon the issue of raising funds for biodiversity conservation. Reminding the delegates that resource mobilisation was an unfinished agenda item from the earlier CoP, she warned, “If we miss this one chance, it would be our collective failure making it nigh impossible to achieve the Aichi targets by 2020. ”

The money required, however, is huge. According to the preliminary report of the High-Level Panel on Global Assessment of Resources, the global community needs to invest between $130 billion and $430 billion annually from 2013 to 2020 to meet the Aichi Targets.

Where can these funds come from? Summarising early discussions, the CBD spokesperson said that funding for biodiversity conservation need not come only from development cooperation assistance from developed countries, but also could be generated by developing countries through innovative mechanisms. These include debt for nature swaps and payment for ecosystem services.

While the idea of an innovative financial mechanism is attractive, and especially so in times of global economic turmoil, the fact remains that biodiversity conservation will continue to remain an activity of fuzzy statements and without assured international financial support.

Project finance

The current financial support for biodiversity conservation is through the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

However, unlike for the climate fund for the Climate Change Convention, there is no global biodiversity fund.

GEF funding also has the limitation of being designed by its structure to provide only incremental funding for projects and not complete funding. This means, GEF funding will provide around 20 per cent of the project cost to support biodiversity projects.

Ultimately, CoP-11 would be remembered to have achieved something in the direction of biodiversity conservation only if it kick-starts the process of finding financial resources. Without that it would be a meeting that ended in words.

(The author is regional environment manager with Panos South Asia. Views are personal)