Throwing money at biodiversity schemes is ineffective

By Victoria Gill
Science correspondent, BBC NewsPublished18 hours agoShare

image captionThe economic status quo is continuing the drive the destruction of nature, the report concludes

Rich countries “throwing money” at schemes designed to enhance biodiversity is ineffective, a report by charity Third World Network says.

The report calls for “a profound re-organisation of the global post-pandemic economy to prevent further harm to the planet”.

It recommends nothing less than a “change in our entire economic model”.

Cancellation of debt owed by the poorest, most biodiverse countries would be the place to start, it adds.

Developed nations in the global north should pay for their “vast ecological debts”, said lead author Dr Patrick Bigger from Lancaster University.

“There need to be no strings attached payments to those countries,” said Dr Bigger. “Otherwise we just continue to dig this hole and try to fill the hole with money.”

This study of the economics of biodiversity loss sets out how the current model by which money flows from rich, developed nations into schemes to enhance and protect nature in poorer nations can exacerbate the problem.

Rhino (c) Patrick Bigger
image captionConservation efforts in Kenya, and around the world, have been hindered by debt and austerity, the researchers say

Investment in activities like large-scale agriculture and resource extraction, it points out, continue to drive the destruction of natural habitats.

The gap, the researchers say, “between those who live with the environmental consequences of [resource] extraction and those who benefit from financing these developments”, is widening.

“In 2019, 50 of the world’s largest banks underwrote more than $2.6 trillion into industries known to be the drivers of biodiversity loss, an amount equivalent to Canada’s gross domestic product,” the report states.

Making things worse?

There are a number of international schemes designed to protect nature that this report deems “ineffective and underfunded”.

Brazil's Atlantic Forest
image captionBrazil’s Atlantic Forest: Second in biodiversity only to the Amazon

It points specifically to a UN programme that was designed to pay communities that live in valuable, biodiverse forests for “actions that prevent forest loss or degradation”. Essentially, it pays those communities in credits for activities that protect the forest.

That scheme paid out about 160 million US dollars in 2019. “While that may sound like a large number, it is far less than the monthly increase of Jeff Bezos’ fortune since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Bigger.

In some cases, these market-driven schemes can do more harm than good.

One study of a scheme in Costa Rica, which was designed to incentivise tree-planting, revealed that it had subsidised commercial forestry, resulting in more “plantation forests” of a single non-native tree species used in the production of wooden shipping pallets.

“We need a broader rethink about how the rules of the economy are driving the sixth extinction,” said Dr Jessica Dempsey from the University of British Columbia, Canada, a researcher on the report.

“We need to take a hard look at things like tax and intellectual property policy, and even entire ideas that guide how the global economy works – like what it means for governments to be ‘financially responsible’ when austerity has such a poor track record of delivering good environmental outcomes.”

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