3rd Dec 2020

Europe willing to make biodiversity payments, says expert

  • Jacqueline McGlade, director of the European Environment Agency (Photo: EEA)

An influential European expert has said the region is willing to make payments to developing nations to protect their biodiversity, despite recent EU statements to the contrary.

In an interview with EUobserver on Monday (27 September), Jacqueline McGlade, director of the European Environment Agency, said the issue of payments would inevitably be discussed when environment ministers from up to 190 UN member states meet in Nagoya, Japan, next month (18-29 October) to discuss how to protect the world's biodiversity.

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"Payments talk will come up, but the question is the amounts," she said. "There is a willingness on the part of the EU to pay but the issue is a verification system ... so that you can genuinely say that this forest was left standing, for example."

Other senior EU figures, however, have recently expressed an unwillingness to hand over more money to developing nations, with Belgium's Flemish minister for environment, Joke Schauvliege, stating "we don't have it". Belgium currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

With much of the global debate focused on fighting climate change through the reduction of C02 emissions, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned at a summit in New York last week that policymakers were still failing to grasp the implications of biodiversity loss.

Recent reports calculate that species are disappearing at the dizzying speed up to 1,000 times the natural rate because of human activity, primarily habitat destruction.

An interim study last year - called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) - attempted to quantify the cost of man's continued destruction of forests, wetlands and other important habitats which provide clean air, fresh drinking water and other 'environmental services'.

An imminent update of the report is expected to say that the ratio of costs of conserving ecosystems or biodiversity to the benefits of doing so is in the range of 10:1 to 100:1.

Assessment panel

Most agree, however, that a shortage of reliable scientific data and advice is holding back global efforts to tackle the problem.

As environment ministers prepare for the crucial Japan meeting, a new row has broken out in recent weeks over the setting up a top-level panel that, like the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), would provide policymakers with the best scientific assessment on biodiversity loss.

Media reports suggest that developing countries are keen to slow the formation of the panel until rich countries agree to financial support. In return for the payments, Western states would gain access to genetic "patrimony" - unique species of plants or animals that, for instance, are found to have a commercial or medical use.

In addition to the ongoing battle over the panel's formation, Ms Glade warns that it risks becoming the battle-ground for other controversial disputes once it is set up.

"I think it has to be very transparent, without vested interests," she warned, citing the current debate over the environmental benefits of genetically modified organisms. "The non-GMO and pro-GMO [camps] will see it as a platform as to where to slug out their battle."

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