Developing countries are failing to cash in on global biodiversity finance opportunities: Nepal’s case

As soon as the opening session of the fourth meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity ended in Nairobi of Kenya this Tuesday, the delegates came out of the hall and began greeting and meeting each other informally. Most of them shared their excitement about the promises that the framework, expected to be adopted later this year, has held.

But, the two-member Nepali delegation went away from the hall in search of peace. Sitting on the open grassland, they talked about their experiences in Nairobi and a popular TV anchor opening a political party in Kathmandu. But, Onlinekhabar wanted to talk with them about opportunities Nepal has from this meeting.

“We attended an Asia-Pacific regional group meeting yesterday and talked about biodiversity in the mountainous region,” Gyanendra Kayastha, the delegation leader, said, “The representatives leading the group said they had included our concern in the issue of highlands.” Apparently, the Nepali delegation then remained silent. 

But, the draft of the framework as updated by the third working group meeting held in Geneva in March, which is the most recent draft publicly available so far, mentions neither mountains nor highlands. Neither did the Kuwaiti delegation that spoke on behalf of the region mention them in its opening statement.

In the first three days of the six-day working group meeting (June 21-26) attended by around 1,300 participants from 156 countries, Nepali delegates spoke only once. They say their request to speak was denied one time. Many other developing countries also did not get a chance to express their concerns due to different reasons. 

Consequently, whereas providing financial support to developing countries remained a crucial issue during the Nairobi negotiations, the Nepali team does not have much hope that it will benefit Nepal. “I hope everything will be finalised in Montreal where the 15th Conference of Parties will be held in December,” Kayastha says, hinting his participation in the meeting was a mere formality.

Back in Kathmandu, other stakeholders say the government’s weak preparations for the negotiations are resulting in a loss of opportunities for attracting financial resources for the country’s biodiversity conservation, which can be a representational case for other developing countries as well.

A lost opportunity

File: Ministry of Forests and Environment, Kathmandu
File: Ministry of Forests and Environment, Kathmandu

Whenever the political leadership does not take part in any UN event, Nepal generally sends joint-secretarial or undersecretarial delegations to it. But, this time, both members of the delegation are section officers. This is evident that the country has not prioritised the event, a government official privy to diplomatic affairs says. 

Moreover, the team looks quite unprepared. “We are here just to make sure our issues do not get overlooked,” Kayastha says, “I am raw (learning) in this affair.”

Maheshwar Dhakal, who in the past decade has attended several UN meetings about the environment and climate change representing Nepal, says the weak institutional memory of government institutions might have resulted in Nepal’s weak participation in the event. 

“In the recent years, the political and bureaucratic commitment to biodiversity in Nepal has weakened,” Dhakal, also the member-secretary of the country’s President Chure Terai-Madhesh Conservation Development Committee, says. “In the past 11 months, 35 rhinos have died in our national parks; in the same period, over 20 people have died due to tiger attacks that will seriously affect our conservation efforts. But, I don’t see any official being serious about this.”

Biodiversity conservation activist Shristi Singh Shrestha says many of the previous funds Nepal has received have not been fruitful thanks to a lack of monitoring on the government’s part and it is likely to repeat with the new promises also. “It is not only the aspect of economic vulnerability, it is more about the intent of big political parties, the entire bureaucratic system and big industries.”   

In the past years, Nepal has made a lot of conservation commitments such as the targets spelt out in the Nepal National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020, but not even a target has been made efficiently, Shrestha claims. Until and unless there is a domestic intent from the politicians to implement these plans, nothing will change, she adds.

As Shrestha is critical of the biodiversity framework draft itself for duplications and a lack of concrete action plan, she says political and bureaucratic commitment should have been instrumental in bringing about the change. “But, top leaders of Nepal do not even know the basics of biodiversity. On the other hand, people working at the ground level are not included in such procedures. In this situation, unless the political and bureaucratic leadership takes initiative, the framework will not work in Nepal.”  

Dhakal also agrees with Shrestha and says unless the country does not show its seriousness in action that it is committed to biodiversity conservation, developing countries like Nepal will face difficulties in attracting internationally available resources as the donor countries and organisations prefer cofinancing to direct grants these days.

Learning from the globe

The United Nations office premises in Nairobi, Kenya, that is hosting the UN Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework Working Group 4 meeting, in June 2022. Photo: Michael Salzwedel/EJN
The United Nations office premises in Nairobi, Kenya, that is hosting the UN Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework Working Group 4 meeting, in June 2022. Photo: Michael Salzwedel/EJN

These sentiments from Kathmandu are reflected in some key discussions in Nairobi this week. 

Francis Ogwal, one of the two co-chairs of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, says developing countries are not supposed to expect funds from the international community even when they do nothing on their own. “There should be the pledge and there should be the action. The national governments of developing countries also have to take initiatives.”

He says, “The governments must change the paradigm of budget allocation if they want to benefit from the framework. If you say you have zero budget for biodiversity, it should mean you have zero commitment to this.”

Ogwal highlights the draft framework has one entire target (target 19) to address the financing concern of the developing countries, suggesting they can get as much support as available if they show their commitments. “Of course, there can be challenges, but you have to take your initiation.”

He also says the private sector has also been involved in the drafting of the framework, and it would be a part of its implementation so that the states would not face a budget crunch to strive towards the targets.

Whereas Brian O’Donnell, the director of the Campaign of Nature, an international NGO active in the global biodiversity framework, says that developed countries must invest a minimum of USD 60 billion in developing countries in grants (not loans) to implement the framework, he suggests the developing countries also need to show in their national biodiversity action plans that they are committed to the targets. They also need to prepare their national biodiversity finance plans accordingly, which will help the donor countries and organisations get convinced about the implementation of the targets. He says, for this, the developing countries need to ensure their domestic resources are also mobilised and invested.   

Stanislas Stephen Mouba, the head of the delegation to the event representing Gabon, an African country that prospers on its natural resources, says some developing countries are already showing signs that they are investing in biodiversity conservation and that should what countries like Nepal should do.

“Many champions are coming from the developing countries. Colombia will reach the 30 by 30 goal (of conserving 30 per cent of the area by 2030) this year. Gabon also hopes that we will reach the goal before 2030. These countries are investing themselves in conservation partnerships.” 

Hoping against hopes

File: A forest in Rautahat, southern Nepal
File: Nepal’s biodiversity status has been suffering from deforestation among other challenges.

So, will Nepal follow Colombia and Gabon?

While officials affiliated with implementing agencies do not openly speak about the matter, activists are critical. 

Shristi Singh Shrestha says she is already tired of the hypocrisy in the government agencies in Nepal. “On paper, it’s great. But, when it comes to implementation, no,” Shrestha says, “Although there have been some efforts in conservation and although officials tell the international community that our conservation practices are one of the best in the world, at the ground level, it’s really horrible.”

Yet, she says she is aware that Nepal, as a third-pole country, has a lot of opportunities and stresses it should be able to cash in on them. “But, it needs to build strong mechanisms so that people working on the ground can get involved and benefit from them.”

Meanwhile, Nepal government delegation leader Gyanendra Kayastha says the government has not been able to work efficiently towards keeping the promises due to the lack of laws. “We have already drafted legislation to implement the Nagoya Protocol, but the parliament has not passed it,” he says, “We can’t do anything unless there are legal foundations.”

Maheshwar Dhakal says he is aware that biodiversity conservation is expensive and it is more expensive in developing countries like Nepal. Hence, he stresses the government should maximise its efforts to take the private and non-government sectors on board and attract investments from the international community.

“We should make everyone understand that investments in biodiversity conservation will have a long-lasting impact that benefits beyond the generation.”

Will the governments in developing countries like Nepal be able to do so?

“You can’t say now,” Kayastha says.    

The negotiations will conclude on Sunday. B then, the state parties will try to finalise 80 per cent of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to be sent to the 15th Conference of Parties for adoption in Montreal in December.

This story was produced as a part of a reporting fellowship to the 2022 UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 4th Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, led by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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