Nairobi (Kenya): "The biggest hurdle is the ability to get that money," for biodiversity conservation, says Vinod B. Mathur, India's official delegate to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi.

At the convention, 196 countries discussed the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a 10-year plan to halt the increase in the rate of species extinctions and bring 30% of land and sea areas under protection. It is in its final negotiation stages, with the fourth meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Framework recently concluded between June 21 to 26 in Nairobi, Kenya. The framework is expected to be agreed by the 196 Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) when they meet in Montreal, Canada in December this year.

Finance has been one of the main hold-ups in the previous working group session and the Nairobi session sought to finalise the issue ahead of the final conference in Montreal, Canada in December 2022. While the draft deal calls for $10 billion per year of funding to be allocated by developed nations to low- and middle-income countries, conservation organisations and developing countries have called it inadequate and have called for at least $60 billion per year to flow to developing countries.

India needed about $16.5 billion between 2017-2022 under the Biodiversity Finance Plan. "And what we had from all sources is $10 billion. So there was a gap of $6.5 billion," Mathur, who has served for 33 years at the Wildlife Institute of India, and was its director from 2014 to 2019, told IndiaSpend. He was also appointed as the chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority in September 2019. He has been part of the official Indian delegation for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and for Convention on Migratory Species meetings since 2006.

We spoke to him about financing biodiversity conservation, whether the Nairobi session was fruitful and what is the path ahead. Edited excerpts:

Why is finance for biodiversity conservation important for developing countries?

What can you do without finance in your personal life, in your professional life, in running a school, college, hospital, etc.? You need finance everywhere. But having funds does not guarantee that you will be able to do everything [on biodiversity conservation]. You need money to, first of all, to develop capacity--because for any action that you will undertake, or any programme that you would like to run, you need to have a technical capacity for which funds are needed.

In [conservation] science, we often say there is no free lunch. So some investments are needed, some funds are needed in biodiversity conservation, which is important, not just for India, but for this entire planet. India is not making any special requests. All countries of the global south are making this request- to support and strengthen their unique biodiversity.

What have been the biggest hurdles in getting the finance that developing countries need to implement this framework?

The biggest hurdle is the ability to get assured and adequate financial resources. Getting money is not easy. Nobody has, or wants to easily give, or share money. You need to have a proper perspective, a proper project and should be able to communicate your plans to everybody.

As they say, getting the first dollar is the most difficult thing, because people would like to know who you are, why you want [the money], what you will do with it, will it be for a good use, or will it be wasted?

So the question then is, what are our requirements? We must know what we need. Every country, including India, needs to prepare what is called a 'Biodiversity Finance Plan', which is about knowing how much money we need for biodiversity conservation. In recent times, we have been part of a project called the Biodiversity Finance Initiative, or BIOFIN. It is a global project with about 35 countries, led by the UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme]. For the last five to six years, I've been part of that project with officials in the Ministry, in UNDP, in the National Biodiversity Authority, in the Wildlife Institute of India, where we have tried to find out the amount of investments that we need.

The second part is to know how much money you have and how much you need. This is the biggest challenge to the global community. Such financial planning, this kind of preparation of National Biodiversity Financial Plans, has not been done. As I said, we have also done this recently, and it is a work in progress. But still we are getting an idea of what a country like India would need to conserve or secure its biodiversity.

Following up on that, what are the different figures India has come up with?

Using the [BIOFIN] methodology, we found that we need about $16.5 billion (for a 5 year period between 2017-18 to 2021-22) for securing biodiversity. And what we had from all sources is $10 billion. So there was a gap of $6.5 billion. These are not final or precise numbers, but it gives you an idea that our needs are more and resource availability is less. And therefore, we need to look at resource mobilisation.

I will give you an example to illustrate how mobilisation can work. We know that agriculture and biodiversity are strongly inter- linked. Whatever happens in agriculture has an impact on forests, and vice versa. We also know that organic farming is important, because if you are using organic farming, you are using less fertilisers and not adversely affecting the soil fertility, soil health, etc. So, imagine a district where organic farming is being done. It is helping the environment, helping forests, helping productivity.

So under this BIOFIN project, we went to the agriculture ministry and asked them if they had a programme on organic farming. So they do, but they operate in X number of states and in Y number of districts. I want this organic farming to be practised in a large number of districts in the country. So I'm not saying that the environment ministry needs to be given the funds from somewhere else to do that. It is the same with the agriculture ministry. We then ask this question that you are doing it for six states on a pilot basis, can you do it in 10? And that person who was responsible for that scheme, he said yes, it is possible.

So now you see the same ministry, the same programme, same things. Now they are agreeing that they can scale up their project. So now you see the mobilisation means nothing else. Nobody has exchanged money, and an existing programme has been scaled up. And then because we explain that an organic farming scheme is more important, then what they can do in government, [is that] they can reallocate resources [to organic farming], which can be very helpful. That is one way how the concept of mobilisation may work.

Do you feel the negotiating session delivered what developing countries expected on finance?

We tried our best to convince countries for funds. There appears to be some kind of polarisation. Countries in Asia and Africa and Latin America, they're developing, the south needs more funds. We [developing countries] at least need $100 billion annually.

The point that we are trying to tell everyone is that we are working to frame a Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which everybody wants to be ambitious, as are we. But an ambitious GBF should also be backed up by ambitious and adequate resourcing. And that is where there is a difference of opinion. While everybody wants the GBF to be as ambitious as possible, not many are willing to provide funds.

And when I say not many are willing to provide funds, I have more riders to that. Yes, we need funds, but we need an adequate amount of funds. If I need $10, if you give me $1, you say I've given you funds, but that is not adequate. Second, you need to give it to me in a timely manner. When the world is saying that loss of biodiversity has to be contained, it has to be contained now, today, as we speak. So even for that $1 or $10, if you give me after three years, what am I going to do? Or how is biodiversity going to benefit? So there is an issue of adequacy, there is an issue of timeliness.

Then there is also an issue of flexibility. As a resource manager, you will realise that you have anticipated five things for which you need money and somebody gives you money for those five things. But then you realise that there are three more things you have to do to get the other five done. But the funding agency then says, no, our funds are only to be spent on what we had earlier committed to. Therefore, I say, you also have to build in an element of flexibility. I'm not saying you don't monitor [how the money is spent], you don't do surveillance. You do everything, but you also provide the flexibility in incurring expenditure.

We also need to look at innovative solutions. This is where the finance expert and the conservation expert have to come to each other. It is not just a simple exchange of funds that is going to help conservation. You need to look at all these issues, and therefore some things are better done if there is innovation. So that is the fourth thing linked to resource mobilisation.

The co-chair of the CBD Nairobi working group negotiation, Francis Ogwal, while addressing the press, said there should be a landscape approach to finance, which means that finance for biodiversity conservation should come along with finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation and finance to combat desertification, which are the three pillars of the Rio Convention. How effective can this mechanism be? And if, according to you, finance for climate change is prioritised over financing biodiversity conservation?

What is the scientific evidence telling us? We need to look at three things: biodiversity, land and climate. What the world is generally doing is that they are looking at three things in three different ways, but what is required is a convergence. And that is what Francis Ogwal is saying, that you cannot just look at climate funds and say, I will solve the climate crisis but I am not concerned with biodiversity. What is not a landscape approach is to operate in silos.

So effective change on the ground will happen when the land degradation people, the climate people and the biodiversity people talk to each other, because we need projects which touch all three. We need funds, we need better coordination, we need better conversation and sometimes the projects have to be jointly operated. Only then can transformative change happen on the ground.

What are the different sources of finance that we are looking for?

The most important source is public finance. Governments are responsible, especially in our part of the world, the developing world. The government plays a very important role.

Then there are private funds, where we are talking of industry, where we are talking of businesses, big, small, medium. India has done a very important job by enacting what is called as the Corporate Social Responsibility Act under which businesses are supposed to provide or share some proportion of their profits on an annual basis for projects which have a dimension on the social side, economic side, ecology side and so on and so forth. So we need to tap those private finances also.

And the third part is philanthropic organisations. Somehow the concept of philanthropy has not deepened so much in India, although there are some people who engage in that. But that is also a very important source. So when we are talking of conservation, we need a pooling of financial resources.

Then there are [international] donors, the bilateral donors and multilateral donors and funders of those kinds are also important.

In May 2022, the UN Global Environment Facility (GEF) announced that it will grant new funding of $43 million to developing countries for implementing projects that reverse species loss. Is India looking for funds under GEF? If so, what are the challenges of partnering with GEF on finance?

Certainly, India has a very long standing relationship with the GEF. We take funds from them and we also contribute funds to the GEF. It's not a one-way street. The GEF funds five thematic different areas, of which biodiversity is one.

Historically, GEF funds have been accessed for our protected area projects [no-go zones, enjoying a higher degree of protection to preserve their biodiversity]. India had the GEF-funded India Eco-development Project, and some other projects. But the GEF is also understanding that biodiversity needs to be conserved elsewhere, in other landscapes, too.

All countries have what is called the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, or NBSAP. Now, these plans were made when there was no Global Biodiversity Framework. We are already in july 2022. And as you know, the second part of the COP has been announced in December in Montreal. So we hope that towards the end of this year, we will have the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Now, the framework at a global level says something. But our national plans are not aligned to it. And this is not just for India but for all countries, because earlier the Global Biodiversity Framework was not there yet. When the GEF team had consultations (in Nairobi), they said the first action that would be required for the Global Biodiversity Framework implementation will be what are called Early Action Grants. And that is the figure you were mentioning that GEF has committed to. And we will get an answer as early as August 2022. In a few months from now, countries can access these funds and start aligning their national plans (NBSAPs) with the Global Biodiversity Framework.

How does India plan to use biodiversity finance? For instance, many protected areas in India have come by evicting local communities that are champions of these forests. Does India plan to continue with the same conservation model?

India's model for conservation, I would say, has been historically, an inclusive model. People might argue that you did displacement and you removed people. Yes, at certain points of history, at a certain point in time, we did that. Our law says that there shall be no human settlement inside the national park. So some people were displaced, people were inconvenienced.

For conservation purposes, we are also talking of a new model. And that model calls for establishment of what are called as OECMs–Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures. On one side, you have entities like national parks, like sanctuaries, Community Conservation Reserve, and at the other extreme end are the new OECMs. So while the national parks are geared to protect, conserve, manage wildlife species, and so on, and there can be very little human use inside the national park, we have OECMs at the other end of the spectrum, where local communities are involved.

Participation of people is very, very important in these OECMs. India is taking a good amount of leadership in defining the OECMs. Globally also, these terms have come in, in the last couple of years. There is no guidance or information on what areas can qualify to be an OECM yet.

And I must also share with you with pride that India has joined what is called a 30 by 30 initiative. What this initiative means is that 30% of the land, 30% of the sea, by the year 2030 will be put under conservation. And that is what India is planning now to do. We have about 22% of our geographic area already under conservation, but we need to move to 30%.

And that is where our OECMs are going to play an important role. We now don't want to expand the national park system. They are already at a saturation level. There are a lot of pressures of increasing the area [of national parks], but OECMs are the solution for that. So when we get funding, we also want people who would take part in giving their common lands or village lands and be incentivised to designate them as OECMs. Our first call once we start accessing GEF funds, and UNDP or other funds, is those who are contributing towards allowing their land area to be part of OECMs, with very little restriction and no displacement.

What kind of progress do you expect to see at the 15th Conference Of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that will take place in Montreal, Canada in December this year?

This COP was supposed to take place in 2020. And from 2020 we have moved on to the whole of 2021 and half of 2022. Now we need to wait until December, 2022. So what the world wants is we do not further delay actions for biodiversity conservation. And what is the one big action? The one big action is the Global Biodiversity Framework. And that's where everybody, including me, are actively looking.

All these negotiations are fine, but ultimately they need to conclude, we need to have an approved, endorsed Global Biodiversity Framework by all countries. So in early 2023, we start aligning our NBSAPs, we start implementing them. So that is, if I can say so, my big dream too, that get the GBF approved, endorsed and start the implementation, look at the monitoring framework and try to reduce or remove or avoid all mistakes from the past.

In 2010, we gave ourselves and told the world that we have these 20 Aichi targets. [In 2010, 196 member countries adopted the Aichi biodiversity targets, which included 20 line items, such as increasing awareness about the importance of biodiversity, addressing the underlying cause of biodiversity loss, etc. But as per a UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report released in 2020, countries have failed to meet several of the Aichi biodiversity targets between 2011-20.]

When 2020 came, we said that except target 11 [for conserving terrestrial and coastal biodiversity] others have not been achieved. So we should not make the same mistake. We have this Global Biodiversity Framework in place, we have these four goals and we have these 20 plus targets. But we should not make any mistake in their effective implementation.

This story was produced with support from the Earth Journalism Network's Biodiversity Media Initiative.

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