MEMO: Debt as a Driver of Biodiversity Loss
The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) must address the connections between debt, austerity, and biodiversity loss.
by Tova Gaster, Jessica Dempsey, Audrey Irvine-Broque, Patrick Bigger, and Lim Li Ching
For the first time, there are potential decisions by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that address the connections between debt, austerity, and biodiversity loss. The draft decision on resource mobilization – arising from Recommendation 3/6 of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), paragraph 40(f) – asks the CBD Secretariat: “[To prepare a report on the relationship between public debt, austerity measures and the implementation of the Convention, with a view to removing specific impediments to the implementation of the Convention].” This text is currently bracketed, indicating no consensus as yet.
Additionally, text proposals from a developing country Party for Target 19.1 of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) include the need to address sovereign debt in just and equitable ways, in order to increase domestic resource mobilization. Another developing country Party proposed that the Target take into consideration the fiscal space and the levels of sovereign debt. These text proposals have however not been included in the “streamlined” text resulting from the Informal Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (CBD/WG2020/5/2). They should be reinstated given the importance of the issue.
A developing country Party has also asked for the draft elements of a possible decision operationalizing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to include the issue of debt. Among others, it proposes that the CBD Executive Secretary “…initiate a process for considering the debt cancellation and efforts to put in place a multilateral debt restructuring process in order to allow financing for biodiversity conservation, in particular for the benefit of developing countries and megadiverse countries”.
This briefing lays out three key reasons why debt is relevant to the CBD and should remain on the agenda of the SBI and in Target 19.1 of the GBF, as well as operationalized throughout the relevant decision adopting the GBF:
Debt can incentivize ecologically-damaging resource extraction for export.
Debt can limit fiscal policy space for biodiversity protection.
The debts of heavily-indebted poor countries may violate the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), as debt imposes fiscal and ecological costs on those nations least responsible for the biodiversity crisis, yet which stand to suffer the greatest damage.
It is crucial to the implementation of the Convention that the relationship between debt and biodiversity loss be further interrogated and options for contending with an important indirect driver of biodiversity loss explored.