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Canadian ministers vow to accelerate action at global environment conference

Vancouver played host to the assembly of the Global Environment Facility
Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada speaks to reporters at the COP15UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal, Sunday, December 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Politicians and environmental leaders from more than 180 countries have been in Vancouver, B.C., this week, with many pledging to accelerate action on climate change and biodiversity loss at the assembly of the Global Environment Facility.

The organization manages a series of funds aimed at helping developing countries meet their climate goals, such as those established by the Paris Agreement, which sets a target of limiting global heating to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Facility CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez said the need to accelerate action is more urgent than ever, as disasters linked to global heating devastate communities worldwide, including wildfires ravaging British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

“The climate and biodiversity crisis is not something that is going to happen later this century, in 25 years,” Rodriguez said in an interview ahead of the assembly, the seventh since his organization launched in 1991.

“It’shappening right now. Look outside your window,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the assembly ahead of its close Friday, saying Canada is experiencing its worst-ever wildfire season and “climate change is key to the story.”

“No one country, no one people can pretend anymore that what happens or doesn’t happen on the other side of the world doesn’t matter to them,” Trudeau said. “And not just ‘doesn’t matter’ even in an abstract way, but ‘doesn’t matter’ in a concrete, affect-your-daily-lives way.”

READ MORE: ‘Pulling together in terrifying times’: Trudeau visits wildfire impacted Okanagan

Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, likewise said the wildfires that have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes serve as an “unwanted reminder of the need to act together with urgency.”

The minister made the remarks Wednesday as he opened a meeting with several dozen of his counterparts from around the world in Squamish, B.C., to discuss progress, challenges and opportunities in implementing the global biodiversity framework struck at the United Nations meeting in Montréal last December.

“The climate change we’re seeing is with 1 degree Celsius,” he said, referring to the level or warming that’s already occurred since the Industrial Revolution.

“I don’t want to see a world where we get to 2 degrees Celsius, what the impacts will be in Canada and around the world,” Guilbeault said in an interview.

“Therefore, we need to continue, and even accelerate,” he said.

Guilbeault along with Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister of international development, announced Thursday that Canada would be the first country to make a public pledge in support of a fund launched during this week’s assembly.

Canada has earmarked $200 million for the new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund set up to help finance the implementation of the agreement struck in Montréal, which aims to put nature on path to recovery by the end of the decade.

“This is the start of a long climb,” Guilbeault told the news conference.

“We will keep working with our international partners to mobilize $20 billion per year by 2025 and $30 billion by 2030 in financial resources for biodiversity,” he said.

The United Kingdom has also pledged more than C$17 million.

Hussen noted the assembly has agreed for the first time to allocate 20 per cent of the new fund to Indigenous-led initiatives aimed at protecting biodiversity.

Canada is also adding $22.8 million to its earlier $219-million commitment to overall funding for the Global Environmental Facility, Hussen said.

Biodiversity and ecosystems underpin human health, well-being and economic growth, but biodiversity loss has reached “critical levels,” he said.

Canada is among 40 states that have contributed money over the last 30 years, helping the organization provide $23 billion in fundingand facilitate more than five times that amount in co-financing for 5,000 projects in developing countries.

But Rodriguez said accelerating concrete action to address the crisis requires a “paradigm shift” in how decisions are made and how funding is distributed in order to empower civil society— especially youth, women, Indigenous Peoples and others often sidelined in international climate negotiations and domestic policy-making.

“There is a consensus that if we don’t incorporatecivil society and (the) private sector, there won’t be time to really be on track on climate and biodiversity,” said Rodriguez, who previously served as Costa Rica’s environment minister.

The Global Environment Facility has so far worked mainly with political executives whose approval is required for civil society groups to receive any funding, he said.

But addressing the triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution demand a more inclusive, “whole of society” approach, Rodriguez said.

The assembly in Vancouver marks the starting point for that new model, he told an opening press conference on Wednesday, where he called on donors to “redouble” funding that’s expected to flow directly to civil society groups for the first time.

“For the last 15 years we’ve been talking and talking about inclusion, about the relevance of non-state actors, about the role of civil society,” he said in an interview.

“But we never put the money behind the talk.”

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press