A New Study Shows What It Will Take to Reverse Biodiversity Declines

Indigenous stewardship of land in Canada, Alaska, and beyond are key to reaching biodiversity goals.

Thanks to a new report, “Financing Nature: Closing the Global Biodiversity Financing Gap,” by the Paulson Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Cornell University, we now have an authoritative analysis of the financial resources needed to stop and reverse the catastrophic biodiversity declines happening across the globe. This is a crisis the world can afford to address.

There can be little doubt that biodiversity is in free fall. Here in North America there are now almost three billion fewer birds than there were in the 1970s. One million species worldwide are threatened with extinction. A recent World Wildlife Fund report found that there has been a nearly 70 percent average decline in wildlife populations around the globe since 1970.

Many governments committed to doing more to solve this crisis by signing the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which pledged them to reach certain targets for increased biodiversity protection. But the 2020 UN Global Biodiversity Outlook, which reviewed the progress of the nations that signed the treaty back in 2010, told a clear-eyed but sobering story: none of the target goals were fully reached. For example, the 2020 goal of halving the rate of loss of natural habitats, although slowed compared to the previous decade, was not achieved. The goal of removing incentives and subsidies harmful to biodiversity and establishing ones helpful to biodiversity and sustainability has seen little progress. And the goal of improving the status of species most in decline has, except for a handful of exceptions, clearly not been achieved.

This is not to say that success is not possible. Some initiatives in some countries made substantial conservation gains. Indigenous-led conservation in Canada has resulted in multimillion acre protected areas like those of Pimachiowin Aki in Manitoba and Ontario, Thaidene Nene and Edehzhie in the Northwest Territories and Tursujuq in Quebec. And millions of acres in Alaska and more in Canada could benefit from Indigenous stewardship. Audubon coastal bird initiatives across the U.S. and with partners in the Bahamas have been part of the incredible rebound of Piping Plover populations. Audubon California’s work with farmers to protect nesting habitat for Tricolored Blackbirds has helped sustain populations of that rare bird. National commitments in the U.S. to addressing harm from pesticides and applying the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act helped recover populations of the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican.

More of these kinds of successes are possible, and we must achieve them in order to save life on our planet. But we need to put massively more resources and effort into such endeavors if we are to maintain the biodiversity that makes our planet healthy. How much more funding will be needed to turn the corner and stop continued biodiversity crashes has been a gaping unknown until now.

The new Financing Nature report provides the answer at time when we need it most. Not only does the report describe the size of the global gap in funding (between $598 billion and $824 billion) but it also provides recommendations for how to close that gap. Before the trillion-dollar pandemic relief bills passed by the U.S. Congress, that would have seemed like an insurmountable amount of money—and it is indeed a large price tag but it is a crisis we can afford to fix. This new report provides wise, well-researched recommendations from credible and experienced voices on how governments can find smart ways to finance conservation at scales the world desperately needs. Measures like nature-based climate solutions are particularly cost-effective since they can also achieve as much as a third of the world’s needed climate change emission reductions.

The Financing Nature report highlights the crucial need for all governments, national and sub-national (states or provinces/territories) included, to increase funding for conservation and development of these nature-based climate solutions. Canada’s federal government has shown leadership with its recent investments in support of Indigenous-led conservation and Indigenous Guardians programs. It will be critical to build on these initial investments with long-term support for Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) and their management by Indigenous Guardians to protect biodiversity and climate resilience.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, many nations have made substantial commitments to deal with biodiversity issues. Costa Rica continues to exceed in its commitments, accomplishments and innovative approaches, inspiring other countries across the world and the region. This must continue with the help and support of both non-governmental organizations, including Audubon, but especially from larger more wealthy donor nations like the United States, Canada, and the EU countries.

Here in the U.S. as we slowly emerge from the economic difficulties of the pandemic and consider funding relief packages, it is vital that we include in them the win-win opportunity—and urgent need—of supporting nature-based climate solutions and new policy reforms that shift financing toward mechanisms that support a healthy environment and sustainable economies for local communities. It is only through scaling up these solutions that we will collectively achieve the goal of stopping further steep declines in biodiversity.

Our human interdependence with the environment and its biodiversity has perhaps never been more obvious to so many of us as it has been during the global COVID emergency that has left us separated and staying closer to home. That interdependence means that it is in our best interest to do whatever it takes to stop the biodiversity and climate change freefall. National, state, and provincial governments should look carefully at the recommendations contained within the Financing Nature report and non-governmental organizations should help them find ways to implement them. There is no time to lose.