UK government commits £330m to support nature protection in developing countries

The UK government is set to pledge £330m to help developing countries tackle environmental breakdown, conserve nature and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on the first day of a major UN environmental summit kicking off tomorrow in Stockholm.

The Stockholm+50 conference has been organised to mark 50 years since the historic United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, and is expected to see rafts of global politicians, CEOs and civil society leaders in attendance, alongside the launch of a number of fresh environmental commitments.

The £330m set to be officially announced by the UK government tomorrow is earmarked for the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN mechanism financing designed to help developing countries meet global nature commitments, in a move aimed at driving finance towards a “nature positive” future”.

International Environment Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith said scaling finance for nature protection was an economic imperative that would require governments and private actors to pool resources.

“Protecting our forests, oceans and species is essential for our economy and survival but time is running out to rapidly scale up the finance for nature that is critical to deliver an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework,” he said. “There is no silver bullet. That’s why we need a package of action with investment from all sources – public and private, domestic and international – and why we must align our spending and overseas aid with the recovery of the natural world.”

The summit comes as amid hopes of agreeing a global treaty for nature akin to the Paris Agreement for climate change at the UN COP15 Biodiversity Summit later this year, which was originally set to take place in 2020 but has been delayed several times as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hopes are high that the touted Global Biodiversity Framework treaty will see the international community to agree biodiversity targets for the next 10 years – including to halt and reverse global nature and biodiversity loss by 2030 – as well as proposals designed to bridge an estimated $700bn gap in financing protection and restoration of nature.

As the official financing mechanism for developing countries to meet commitments made under major UN environmental agreements, the GEF aims to support poorer nations in meeting any goals set out by the agreement.

GEF chair Carlos Manuel Rodriquez is expected to thank donors at the later summit for pledging a record $5.25bn to the upcoming funding cycle of the GEF, which covers the period between July 2022 to June 2026. The multi-billion-dollar sum marks a 29 per cent increase on funds committed to the last four-year phase of the GEF.

“The record GEF replenishment will give a major boost to biodiversity funding compared to the past four years,” Rodriquez said. “This financing will help developing countries implement the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and is a testament to the leadership of the UK and other donors.”

He added that it was “imperative” that funds for nature were channelled towards developing countries, where most of the world’s biodiversity is located.

Also speaking at the summit later, Lord Goldsmith is expected to discuss the “perverse incentives” that drive deforestation and to call out the “madness” of countries spending money to restore nature on one hand whilst providing subsides that indirectly support the destruction of the natural world.

In the UK, some campaigners have raised concerns that the government’s continued backing of biomass energy, which burns wood to generate electricity, is at odds with its tree planting targets.

Last autumn, MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee pointed out the government provides more money to Drax’s biomass power plant in Yorkshire annually that it has assigned to its wood planting program over five years. Drax, meanwhile, maintains that its biomass operations utilise wood feedstocks from environmentally sustainable sources.

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