Biodiversity fund cuts worrying

The United States’ intention to partially withdraw its financial support for global efforts to protect the environment is worrying experts and policy-makers attending a major international conference in Curitiba, Brazil on biodiversity.

As negotiations over funding for the implementation of the UN Convention on Biodiversity continue this week, many fear that if the US scales back its contribution to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), other donor countries might follow suit.

If that happens, “the situation will be really difficult because a lot of environmental problems will increase,” Mario Ramos, a senior biodiversity specialist at GEF, said. “If we can’t keep the current level of funding, it will be difficult to implement the Convention.”

Established 15 years ago, the GEF provides grants to developing countries for projects that benefit the environment and promote sustainable livelihoods. Since then, it has distributed over four billion dollars in grants and generated more than five billion dollars in funding.

For many years, Washington supported the GEF, but last November, US representatives told the 32-member body that it might not be able to sustain the current level of funding. If approved, a budget proposal for 2006-2010 by the Bush administration now before the Congress would cut funding from $428 million to $224 million. “This is causing a lot of frustration,” a European diplomat said. The Europeans, according to the diplomat and others, are trying hard to convince the US not to step back at this stage because such a move would adversely affect the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity.

Endorsed by over 180 countries, the Convention has set a series of targets to protect biological diversity, promote sustainable use of its components, and ensure the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

In the past four years, the GEF has raised three billion dollars, and if the US does not turn its back on the Convention, officials say they hope that donors will contribute $25 million to $75 million more for the next four years.

Many official delegates from the developing world said they were disappointed with the GEF and the way developed countries are setting its direction. Last September, the GEF, which is composed of the World Bank, the UNDP and the UN Environment Programme, among others, created a new system for funding distribution called the Resource Allocation Framework. The body plans to use the new resource allocation system for biodiversity and climate change projects beginning in July this year.

Meanwhile, environmental activists who are watching the negotiation process from the sidelines say they are extremely disappointed with the performance of official delegates. “There are droughts, floods and earthquakes all over the planet, and you are still wondering that you have to keep discussing and trying to reach consensus,” said Marcelo Furtado, campaign director for Greenpeace International. Furtado, who described the threat to biodiversity as the “biggest in our era”, added, “This is the time for implementation. We need at least 20 to 25 billion dollars.” The negotiations over financing are expected to continue until next week when ministers from all over the world arrive here to participate in the conference. — IPS