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Christine Lepisto
October 14, 2012

Ahead of next week’s meeting of the parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India, a paper has been published putting some real numbers to the question: just how much financing do we need to meet our promises about biodiversity?

Under the CBD, governments around the globe have committed to halting human-caused extinctions and protecting wildlife environments by 2020. The newest commitments were made in 2010, on the heels of the failure of previous good intentions. The current commitments appear doomed as well, unless someone can tell governments what this will cost, and hold them to their wallets as well as their words. Study contributor H. Martin Schaefer, of the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg identifies the key problem:

They left open the question of how to finance this. Therefore, no one knows how much it will cost.

Schaeffer worked amongst a team of leading scientists to answer that question, demonstrating that the current progress falls short.

The study focuses on the costs of maintaining or extending the most significant sites for protecting birds. Retaining existing protections would cost US$7.2 billion annually. Improving conservation efforts to the level required to improve species on the IUCN Red List by one threat-level would cost US$57.8 billion per year. This effort was shown to be in line with CBD targets of protecting 17% of the world’s land.

Extending the estimates to cover other species — such as mammals, amphibians and some reptile, fish, plant and invertebrate groups — pushes the estimate to US$76.1 billion annually, a relatively small increase because these other species benefit greatly already by the protection of lands targeted for bird conservation efforts. Unfortunately, financial commitments currently on the tables amounts to only 12% of this funding target.

The paper’s lead author, Donal McCarthy, Environmental Economist at BirdLife International and the RSPB puts these costs into perspective:

The shortfalls we have identified highlight a clear and urgent need to scale up investment in biodiversity conservation substantially. But the total costs are very small relative to the likely costs of inaction. The total is just 1-4% of the net value of ecosystem services being lost annually, for which estimates range from £1.5 to £4.13 trillion ($2 to $6.6 trillion). More prosaically, the total required is less than 20% of annual global consumer spending on soft drinks.

For those who do not read “Environmental-ese” daily, the “net value of ecosystem services” means the monetary value of benefits humans could reap if we work to save the ecosystem discussed. In short, this effort promises a great return on investment. Worse, the longer we continue to fail to meet the targets, the more it will cost to get back on track.

So this week, while the parties meet in Hyderabad, keep open ears and eyes. If you get a chance to voice your opinion, let it be loud and clear: the time for action is now.