EXPLAINER: Philanthropists pledge $5 bln for growing global push to protect nature

by Michael Taylor & Megan Rowling | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 22 September 2021 11:30 GMT

An African elephant calf, which was born at Africam Safari zoo as part of its breeding programme, is seen with its mother at their enclosure, in Valsequillo, Mexico August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Imelda Medina

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Private donors make largest-ever funding pledge for nature, as governments work on a new global pact to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems vital for clean air, water and food

By Michael Taylor and Megan Rowling

KUALA LUMPUR/BARCELONA, Sept 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of private donors pledged a record $5 billion to help safeguard the planet's plants, animals and ecosystems at an event during the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

The nine charitable funders, which include the Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rainforest Trust, launched the decade-long "Protecting Our Planet Challenge" to help finance larger and better-managed natural areas worldwide.

"Halting and reversing biodiversity loss and climate change requires expanded protected and conserved areas, especially in tropical forests," said James Deutsch, CEO of the Rainforest Trust, which contributed $500 million to the pot.

"Developing nations and indigenous peoples need financing to achieve this, which is why we are pledging to more than double our level of funding between now and 2030, and (are) urging other private and public funders to do the same," he added in a statement.

The Finance for Biodiversity Pledge also said on Wednesday that 75 financial institutions - worth a combined 12 trillion euros ($14 trillion) in assets - have committed to protecting and restoring biodiversity through their investments.

The announcements came as governments work to finalise a new accord to safeguard the planet's plants, animals and ecosystems - similar to the Paris climate pact - at a two-part U.N. summit, due to culminate next May in the Chinese city of Kunming. 

An official draft of the biodiversity pact includes a pledge to protect at least 30% of the planet's land and oceans by 2030 but finding the huge amounts of finance needed to help nature-rich, developing countries with conservation is a challenge.

If conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, oceans, forests and wildernesses, are not adequately funded, it could have catastrophic consequences for the ecosystems on which humans and animals depend, experts warn.

A lack of finance could also hobble efforts to keep global warming to internationally agreed limits, as scientists say protecting natural stores of carbon, including forests, peatlands and mangrove swamps, is crucial for those goals.

Why the urgent need to protect nature?

About 1 million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction due to humankind's relentless pursuit of economic growth, scientists warned in a 2019 landmark report on the devastating impact of modern civilisation on the natural world. 

Since then, the COVID-19 virus - believed to have originated in bats and then transmitted to humans via wildlife trading networks in Asia - has thrust into the spotlight the links between the health of natural systems, animals and people.

This has encouraged a rethink of how humans treat the environment, with the aim of stopping damage to the climate and the natural world so that the planet can continue to provide us with clean air, fresh water and nourishing food.

"Every day we put these benefits at risk. We are destroying nature and if we don't turn things around quickly, we will pay the price," British actor, musician and environmentalist Idris Elba told the launch of a landscapes conservation fund in May.

How much money is required?

Estimates vary, but it's clear that taking good care of plants, animals and ecosystems - and repairing the damage done to them by human activities - will require hundreds of billions of dollars each year in new funding.

Officials told a 2020 U.N. financing forum $700 billion more would be needed annually from governments and business over the next decade. 

They also called for the reduction or redirection of $500 billion in yearly spending that harms nature, including support for intensive agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Tens of millions of green jobs could be created if governments diverted just one year's worth of those subsidies into action that benefits nature, according to green group WWF. 

"Nature-based solutions" like forest protection could provide about a third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 to meet climate goals - and yet have so far attracted little more than 3% of global climate investment, British minister Zac Goldsmith told the U.N. forum.

A U.N. report in May said global annual spending to protect and restore nature on land needs to triple this decade to about $350 billion by 2030 and then rise to $536 billion by 2050. 

The new draft nature pact, meanwhile, calls for an increase in spending from all sources to $200 billion per year, of which only a small share - $10 billion - would be "international financial flows" to developing nations. 

If countries fail to invest more in protecting and restoring nature and ecological tipping points are reached, the global economy would face annual losses of $2.7 trillion by 2030, the World Bank has warned.

Who will fund nature protection efforts?

Nature campaigners say the success of the U.N. biodiversity summit, known as COP15, will depend on rich countries and investors pledging far more money to developing nations that are home to much of the planet's endangered flora and fauna. 

COP15 host China and African nations are pushing for the establishment of a multi-billion-dollar "global biodiversity fund" to help developing countries meet nature protection goals agreed in the new pact due from the summit. 

This year has seen progress, including the new $5-billion commitment from philanthropists and the establishment of large public-private initiatives like the Legacy Landscapes Fund for conservation areas, the LEAF coalition to fund emissions reductions from tropical forests and the Rimba Collective, a $1-billion effort to protect Southeast Asia's forests. 

French fashion house Chanel, meanwhile, is backing a new fund that aims to raise $100 million by 2025 to invest in projects to promote sustainable agriculture, protect forests and support small-scale farmers in developing countries. 

Despite this, private investors seeking to ramp up financing of projects that protect and restore nature say they are struggling to find enough suitable deals. 

What kind of funding is needed?

Up to now, internationally backed conservation projects have tended to last for just a few years, making it hard to plan for the future, according to Stefanie Lang, executive director of the new Legacy Landscapes Fund (LLF).

This fund, backed by the German and French governments, aims to provide longer-term financing to conservation groups, governments and communities working to run national parks in a sustainable way for nature and people.

The LLF will use about half its money to boost conservation efforts and help local people find nature-friendly ways to make money, such as eco-tourism or earning payments to keep forests and wetlands intact. 

Prudence Ndavani, a procurement assistant at Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park, one of seven conservation areas set to receive LLF funding, said local people would benefit, with about 75% of the park's staff coming from nearby communities, meaning they do not need to make a living from logging, mining, poaching and unsustainable fishing.

The other half of the LLF's capital will go to set up an endowment, whose investment income will be earmarked to fund parks indefinitely.

"We are hoping with a 15-year commitment we can turn the tide and make those areas real protected areas," said Lang.

Read more:

What is the COP15 biodiversity summit, and why is it so important?

Three-quarters of people in G20 nations see climate, nature near tipping points

Which animal and plant species are threatened by rising heat? 

Restore land the size of China to meet climate and nature goals, UN says

($1 = 0.8527 euros)

This article was updated on Sept. 22, 2021 to include new funding pledges and information on work to boost financing for nature.

(Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor and Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)