Deadlock in biodiversity talks as Macron draws red line at funding

Entrenched views and absence of clear targets in global biodiversity framework indicates difficult days ahead

A stand-off over adequate funding to support enhanced global biodiversity actions in the coming decade is stalling progress at Cop15 and heaping pressure on government ministers, who joined the talks on Thursday, to break the impasse.

The deadlock is between developed countries led by the EU and developing countries who are custodians of the vast majority of the world’s biodiversity.

The Cop15 summit in Montreal is a gathering of almost every country in the world under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

More than 70 countries walked out of negotiations on “resource mobilisation” on Wednesday – some of whom regard a new fund as nature’s equivalent to the massive “loss and damage” funding for climate-vulnerable countries agreed at Cop27 in Egypt recently.


Talks on the issue resumed late on Wednesday but the wide gap in positions was indicated by two outside interventions. It was confirmed that French president Emanuel Macron has written to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying the creation of a new fund for biodiversity was a “red line”.

Meanwhile, the transitional government of Brazilian president-elect Luiz Inácio da Silva issued a letter calling on developed countries to “ensure ambitious financial commitments are achieved at Cop15″. He has already committed to holding a pan-Amazonian meeting to conserve the world’s largest tropical rainforest on taking office.

“How can the developed world recognise the magnitude of the triple planetary crisis and not respond to calls for greater ambition in biodiversity funding beyond the existing financing architecture through additional and innovative strategies and instruments?” the letter asks.

“Funding proposals put forth by developing countries to generate new and additional funding dedicated specifically to biodiversity-related initiatives need to be taken seriously. Developing countries hold the overwhelming majority of the world’s biodiversity and have a key role to play in this agenda.”

The EU, Japan, Norway and Switzerland are reportedly refusing to budge on even discussing the prospect of a new fund for nature. Though the UN confirmed there had been “constructive engagement” on the possibility of forming a new biodiversity trust fund, a significant gap remained.

The EU has called for broadening funding sources – through private donors, development banks and philanthropies.

“It’s absolutely unrealistic to have $100 billion just from development funds,” EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius told Reuters, adding that countries shouldn’t be “overpromising what we are not able to deliver”.

Negotiators had earlier discussed a total financial target of $200 billion a year from both governments and the private sector. But it was unclear if the final pact would include a target at all. It has been acknowledged that cancelling subsidies for businesses that harm nature could help address the financing gap

One of the proposed targets could see countries agree to eliminate or phase out these subsidies by at least $500 billion per year. While some progress has been made, negotiators have not yet finalised the numerical target, and wording to explicitly address subsidies given to agriculture and fisheries has been removed in recent days.

The high-level stage of the summit began with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, urging countries to work together to promote “harmonious coexistence between man and nature”.

“As an old Chinese saying goes, ‘all living things should flourish without harming each other, all ways of life should thrive without hindering each other’. Let us work together to open a new chapter in building a community of all life on Earth and create a bright future of harmonious coexistence,” he said in a video message.

As Cop15 moves into its final days, it has been left to political representatives to attempt to help resolve key sticking points on an over-arching global biodiversity framework (GBF); the funding issue, reducing harmful subsidies – and on digital sequencing Information (DSI), which relates to genetic sequences that are stored and sent digitally.

But there are “very few instances where targets are clear”, according to David Ainsworth, spokesman for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. It was proving impossible to agree a definition of DSI, he said, though there was wide acceptance of the need for equitable sharing of benefits from genetic resources.

A heads-of-delegation plenary session was called by the Chinese presidency to take the temperature on the critical issues at this stage in the negotiations. It is understood parties “reaffirmed their aspiration for an ambitious GBF and that this elevated ambition required additional resources” – a positive indication of willingness to forge a deal before December 19th.

Cop15 president Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, indicated negotiations would benefit from ministerial engagement with a focus on the GBF. He will host a stock-take on Saturday to determine if further intervention is required.

He reasserted nothing would be agreed until everything was agreed by tying in all issues under the GBF; an approach that underlines ambition but is not without risk, as it could lead to a weak outcome or even a collapse in the talks if sufficient progress is not made going into the weekend or if time runs out.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times