Leadership Critical in the Run-Up to UN Biodiversity Conference

Wildlife Conservation Society
5 min readOct 14, 2021


By Arnaud Goessens | October 14, 2021

Photo credit: Susan Chin/WCS

Part 1 of the Convention on Biological Diversity CoP 15 is taking place this week. The recent European Union commitment of increased funding to biodiversity could be a game-changer, by showing that biodiversity is finally high on the political agenda. While the announcement made by European Commission President von der Leyen is highly significant, much more still needs to be achieved, from multiple countries, writes Arnaud Goessens, Senior Manager for EU Policy at WCS EU.

In addition to climate change and pandemics, the world is facing a massive biodiversity crisis, which until now has failed to capture a similar level of global political attention. This is despite a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which revealed that one million plant and animal species face extinction.

Most of the focus has been on climate change and then shifted, rightly so, to COVID-19 and its devastating human, economic, and societal impacts. However, the current pandemic is symptomatic of our broken relationship with nature and is a wake-up call for all of us on the urgent need to fix it.

Photo credit: Cristian Samper/WCS

In her 2021 State of the Union Address last month, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that the European Union (EU) will double its external funding for biodiversity, in particular for the most vulnerable countries. With this welcome increased support, the EU is committed to play a pivotal role in protecting biodiversity worldwide. The vast majority of global biodiversity lies outside of Europe, yet is significantly impacted by European actions and footprint.

For the past several years, WCS EU and other conservation organizations in Europe have been calling for increased external funding for biodiversity and specifically for an EU target of 10 percent for biodiversity under the new Global Europe Instrument. President von der Leyen’s announcement shows much needed EU leadership. There can be no solution to the climate and pandemic crises without also combating the biodiversity crisis.

“There can be no solution to the climate and pandemic crises without also combating the biodiversity crisis.”

There is a clear need to develop realistic estimates of what is needed and to increase synergies between all financing mechanisms that aim to address the root causes of the three major and interlinked aforementioned crises the world is currently facing. It is indeed urgent to find win-win solutions to get out of these crises.

Photo credit: ©Eleanor Briggs

The emergence of diseases of zoonotic origin like COVID-19, that spill over from wildlife to humans, provides a stark demonstration of the need to protect wildlife and wild places, and to address markets where live animals are sold. The link between deforestation, forest degradation and emergence of pathogens shows that a major effort must be made to retain intact forest ecosystems in tropical countries.

Protecting forests with high ecological integrity will not only contribute to biodiversity protection, but it will also help mitigate climate change by reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere while helping to reduce risks of future pandemics of zoonotic origin by shrinking the human-wildlife interface.

Photo credit: Hani Gué

A great deal of attention is currently focused on restoration and ‘tree-planting’ but we need to ensure these initiatives are carried out with sound science and due diligence. Recent studies suggest that large tree-planting initiatives often fail in offering any substantial environmental or economic benefits — many of them even have negative impacts on biodiversity, for instance when they involve planting nonnative species, some of which may become invasive.

This is a good reminder that we should always go for quality rather than quantity; we’re better off and it is far more cost effective if we ensure proper protection of existing intact ecosystems and restoring where necessary and appropriate, always using a scientific approach, rather than racing to plant as many trees as possible in a short time frame.

“It is critical that the EU’s new commitment on biodiversity funding is allocated to science-based conservation projects aimed at conserving the world’s remaining highly intact ecosystems.”

It is therefore critical that the EU’s new commitment on biodiversity funding is allocated to science-based conservation projects and programmes aiming at conserving the world’s last remaining highly intact ecosystems, and in particular where it will have the greatest impact. A great example is EU’s new exciting and promising NaturAfrica initiative that aims to protect wildlife and key ecosystems while offering opportunities in green sectors for local communities in Africa.

This new funding commitment by the EU is also very timely as the first part of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) kicks off this week in Kunming, China. Hopefully, it will trigger important funding commitments from other governments and philanthropies (the second part of COP15 will take place from 25 April to 8 May 2022, in person, in Kunming, China).

Photo credit: Charles Foley/WCS

Of note is the recent $5 billion pledge to protect and conserve 30 percent of the planet by 2030, from nine foundations: Arcadia, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Téro, Rainforest Trust, Re:wild, Wyss Foundation, and the Rob and Melani Walton Foundation. This pledge marks the largest-ever private funding commitment to biodiversity.

However, the same or greater level of commitment is needed from all of the world’s large economies, including in particular the governments contributing the largest amount of official development assistance (ODA). While the United States is the largest contributor of foreign aid in absolute terms, it still needs to step up its biodiversity funding. It remains the only UN Member State that hasn’t ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity.

While the U.S. does engage with the CBD negotiations, as a non-Party, doubling its international funding commitment to biodiversity and developing a National Biodiversity Strategy are necessary next steps to halt the biodiversity crisis. The other major donors of ODA also need to at least double their biodiversity funding — including (in order of size of their current ODA funding) Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy, and Sweden. The clock is ticking.

Arnaud Goessens is the Senior Manager, EU Policy, for WCS EU, a Belgian NGO affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Visit brussels.wcs.org. Follow @WCSBrussels, @ArnaudGoessens



Wildlife Conservation Society

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.