Foundations pledge $5 billion in record funding for biodiversity

Foundations pledge $5 billion in record funding for biodiversity
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Nine foundations on Wednesday pledged a total of $5 billion to protect and conserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030 — marking the largest-ever private funding commitment to biodiversity.

The foundations aim to create and expand conserved and protected spaces while drawing on the leadership and management capabilities of Indigenous people on the ground.

Their goals align with the “30x30” initiative proposed by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People — a 70-member, intergovernmental group that aims to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030.

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The foundations — which include the Bezos Earth Fund, established by Amazon founder Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden, Democrats dig into legislative specifics Replace Kamala Harris with William Shatner to get kids excited about space exploration Shatner pushes back on Prince William over space flight comments MORE — first announced their funding commitment on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. 

“This is a pivot point,” Andrew Steer, CEO and president of Bezos Earth Fund, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Development Program.

“One of the most exciting things over the past three months has been to work together with eight other philanthropies — all of whom want to respond to this moment, all of whom want to take away the barriers that are preventing us going over that tipping point.”

The Bezos Earth Fund — which made headlines Monday with its $1 billion pledge to biodiversity — will be working alongside Arcadia, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Tero, Rainforest Trust, Re:wild, Wyss Foundation and the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation.

Establishing protected areas is one of the most cost-effective ways to safeguard both nature and vulnerable human populations, the partners said. Studies indicate that the conservation and effective guardianship of at least 30 percent of the planet could protect up to 80 percent of plant and animal species, while securing 60 percent of carbon stocks and 66 percent of clean water resources, according to the foundations.

In responding to why the foundations decided to commit funds at this time, Steer noted that “philanthropy is not to replace public money. It is to complement public money. We all have a part to play.”

James Deutsch, CEO of the Rainforest Trust, which pledged $500 million, credited developing nations like Costa Rica and Colombia for leading the way in expanding protected areas, and urged other nations to join in as well. 

“This requires financial support, and while a few wealthy countries, like Norway, are in this room and stepping up to this challenge, many others are not yet,” Deutsch said. 

While Deutsch agreed that private money is no replacement for public money, he stressed that private funds do have the power both to act fast and to challenge the public sector to “step up to the plate.” 

One country whose contributions have been “woefully inadequate” thus far is the United States, said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, a partnership made up of more than 100 conservation organizations.

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The campaign is calling for policymakers to commit to similar 30x30 goals at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in China next month. Among the campaign’s supporters is the Wyss Foundation, which pledged $500 million on Wednesday.

Acknowledging President BidenJoe BidenWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt MORE’s goal set this spring to protect 30 percent of the country’s land and water by 2030, O’Donnell stressed that “the U.S. has been largely absent from the international conversations.” 

“It’s time for the U.S. to step up on international nature conservation,” he told The Hill. “We have a responsibility to help safeguard nature in the developing world, in the tropics and in the oceans.”

Now that the level of private funds has been established, the foundations are discussing how to distribute the money, O’Donnell said. Rather than creating a single $5 billion pool, the individual foundations will be concentrating their efforts on the different regions they support.

But regardless of the specific region and foundation, O’Donnell said, working with local communities will be critical.

“The world’s biodiversity is concentrated overwhelmingly in areas stewarded by Indigenous people in local communities, so supporting them directly has to be a central component of this funding,” he said, pointing to examples such as the Canadian government’s Indigenous Guardians program, which began with an initial $25 million investment in enabling Indigenous peoples to steward their traditional lands. 

O’Donnell said he could envision the new funding stream benefiting initiatives like a timber restoration effort in the Congo Basin, or the expansion of a protected marine area in Costa Rica. The funds would also serve to empower the local people — and encourage governments to adjudicate land tenure rights to communities who do not yet have them, while granting Indigenous people a seat at the table, O’Donnell added.

“Indigenous people are one of the most important contributors to the fight against climate change and also to protect all the biodiversity,” Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad, said at Wednesday’s panel discussion.

Ibrahim called upon governments to design a process that includes Indigenous peoples in their biodiversity planning initiatives, since they are the ones who are on the ground, protecting 80 percent of global diversity. She also voiced her support for “a clear and vast investment” to help conserve that land.

“We have been so long sitting in the passenger’s seat,” Ibrahim added. “It is time for us — for the government to give us the wheel, and to let us be in the driver’s seat.”