Brazil rejects UN biodiversity Conference budget, putting COP15 at risk

According to observers of the negotiations, Brazil's objection is in line with President Jair Bolsonaro's environmental policy, which does not stand out for its defence of the environment. EPA-EFE/Joedson Alves [EPA-EFE/Joedson Alves]

Brazil voted against the 2021 budget of the UN Biodiversity Conference last week and a new text is due to be proposed this Wednesday, but the clock is ticking. EURACTIV France reports.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is definitely having a hard time getting off to a good start. Originally planned for October, the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) – sometimes referred to as ‘the other COP’ – was postponed until May 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, just last Thursday, the CBD Chair announced the suspension of negotiations following the objections of one country, Brazil.

“If the situation drags on, the whole COP15 will be in jeopardy. The budget must imperatively be voted before 1 January, otherwise, the CBD office will be shut down,” Aleksandar Rankovic, a researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), told EURACTIV France.

A second text should be put online this Wednesday to be approved within a new 48-hour approval procedure.

Continuous stalling

The exceptional meeting was only meant to be one step in the negotiations: to vote the budget so that the CBD Secretariat could continue to function the following year and the crucial negotiations on biodiversity could continue. But Brazil did not hear it this way.

Asked by The Guardian, the head of Brazil’s CBD negotiating team, Leonardo de Athayde, said that the negotiating process had to be “inclusive, transparent and fair” if it was to be effective.

This is not currently the case, according to Brazil, which has so far refused to allow online negotiations to take place, saying it puts at a disadvantage the poorest countries that do not have access to the same technology.

For the time being, the suspension of the negotiations has generated few reactions. Not surprisingly, diplomatic consultations are generally held discreetly, without pointing fingers at anyone. However, CBD President Yasmine Fouad has exceptionally chosen to do the opposite.

In a communication published on Thursday, she named the Brazilian government as the only country to have requested “the insertion of footnotes in the draft decisions”.

For several months now, Brazil has been suspected of wanting to delay the negotiations. Leonardo de Athayde denied this in the Guardian article: “I categorically reject these accusations […] We are not hindering the process at all,” he said.

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The Amazon forest – a ‘fiery’ topic

According to observers, Brazil’s objection is in line with President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policy, which does not stand out for protecting the environment. Since his election, Bolsonaro has not stopped proclaiming his desire to open up the Amazon forest to agricultural, forestry and mining stakeholders.

Environmental organisations have harshly condemned Bolsonaro’s forestry policy. Last October, Greenpeace activists erected a statue of the president on the land ravaged by the Pantanal fires.

Bolsonaro does not shy away from criticising all those who attack his environmental strategy. In February, he called Greenpeace “waste”. More recently, he warned US President-elect Joe Biden that he would not allow his forestry policy to be dictated to him: “When you run out of saliva, you have to have powder,” the president said in a belligerent tone.

According to the FAO’s State of the World’s Forests report, more than half of the world’s forests are located in just five countries, including Brazil, home to one of the planet’s richest forests in terms of biodiversity.

Round two

Interested parties have until Saturday to approve the new text, which is available online for review. “The negotiations may very well be blocked again, by Brazil, but also by other states that would not be satisfied with the new document,” warned Rankovic, who also pointed to another potential looming threat.

“The lack of a provisional budget by 1 January would be problematic but not impossible to overcome. More worrying would be the delay in the progress of the negotiations. The duration of the negotiations must be long enough to produce an ambitious text,” he said.

However, as states have only four weeks left once the approval procedure is voted on to reach an agreement, the clock is ticking, and it’s ticking fast.

During that next COP15 to be held in Kunming, UN states are expected to adopt an UN-wide reference document with a work programme for several decades to come, which will prove crucial in preserving biodiversity.

Given that vertebrate populations fell by 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), such a milestone would be crucial.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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