USD 7 trillion investment fuelling climate, biodiversity & land degradation crises: UNEP report warns COP28

Nature-based solutions remain heavily under-invested



December 9, 2023

/ By / Dubai

USD 7 trillion investment fuelling climate, biodiversity & land degradation crises: UNEP report warns COP28

The report suggests that simply doubling or tripling investment in nature-based solutions will not be sufficient to reach the three Rio targets

Despite calls for cutting finance flows towards sectors that harm the environment and fuel climate change, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme released at COP28 says that while over USD 7 trillion is invested each year in areas that lead to climate crisis and biodiversity loss, climate-friendly sectors attract only USD 220 billion in annual investments.

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Climate Finance is one of the key buzz words at the ongoing Climate Change Summit, COP28, in Dubai, with everyone from bankers, company bosses and government officials promising to dramatically curtail funding for projects that could augment the climate crisis and threaten biodiversity and support projects that can promote biodiversity and are climate-friendly.

Yet, a new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme here in Dubai on Saturday says that each year at least USD 7 trillion, or about 7 pc of the global GDP, is spent in government subsidies and private investment on projects that have a direct negative impact on nature.

And even though to meet climate, biodiversity and restoration targets, investments in nature-based solutions or projects that are at least climate-neutral were only USD 200 billion in 2022. The report adds that to meet climate, biodiversity, and restoration targets, this needs to triple by 2030 and quadruple by 2050 and for which a total realignment of public and private nature-negative finance flows is urgently needed.

UNEP report

Every year, about 7 pc of the global GDP is spent in government subsidies and private investment on projects that have a direct negative impact on nature

The report exposes a concerning disparity between the volumes of finance to nature-based solutions and nature-negative finance flows, and underscores the urgency to address the interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation. 

Inger Andersen

Inger Andersen

“Nature-based solutions are dramatically underfunded. Annual nature-negative investments are over 30 times larger than financing for nature-based solutions that promote a stable climate, and healthy land and nature. To have any chance of meeting the sustainable development goals, these numbers must be flipped – with true custodians of the land, such as Indigenous Peoples, among the chief beneficiaries,” says Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

The findings are based on an analysis of global financial flows, revealing that private nature- negative finance flows amount to USD 5 trillion annually, 140 times larger than the USD 35 billion of private investments in nature-based solutions. The five industries channeling most of the negative financial flows are construction, electric utilities, real estate, oil and gas and food and tobacco, which represent 16 pc of overall investment flows in the economy but 43 pc of nature-negative flows associated with the destruction of forests, wetlands, and other natural habitats. 

Niki Mardas

Niki Mardas

“This year’s report is a stark reminder that continuing with business-as-usual poses a severe threat to our planet, reinforcing the urgent need for a transition to sustainable business practices and to stop the financing of nature destruction. The net is tightening, with increased regulatory pressure in key areas like tackling deforestation, it means that those companies and financial institutions still driving the problem now need to make best use of the excellent data, guidance and frameworks already available to urgently commit to a nature-positive future,’’ says Niki Mardas, Executive Director of Global Canopy.

Government spending on environmentally harmful subsidies in four sectors, namely agriculture, fossil fuels, fishery, and forestry, is estimated at US D 1.7 trillion in 2022. UNEP says that as leaders gather in Dubai this week, reforming and repurposing environmentally harmful subsidies, particularly to fossil fuels and agriculture, will be critical. Fossil fuel subsidies to consumers alone doubled from USD 563 billion in 2021 to USD 1.163 billion in 2022. 

Finance gap persists 

The report identifies a significant financing gap for nature-based solutions, with only USD 200 billion allocated in 2022, led by governments, who contributed 82 pc or USD 165 billion, while private finance remains modest at USD 35 billion. To meet the Rio Convention targets on limiting climate change to 1.5° C, as well as the Global Biodiversity Framework target to set aside 30 pc of land and sea by 2030 and achieve land degradation neutrality, finance flows to nature-based solutions must almost triple from current levels to reach USD 542 billion per year by 2030 and quadruple to USD 737 billion by 2050. 

Both public funding and private investment need to increase dramatically, in conjunction with the re-alignment of finance flows that have a detrimental impact on nature. While public funding will continue to play a critical role, private finance can potentially increase its share of nature-based finance from 18 pc currently to 33 pc by 2050.

Jochen Flasbarth

Jochen Flasbarth

“The widespread degradation of nature is not only exacerbating the climate crisis but also pushing us towards exceeding planetary boundaries. Investing in nature-based solutions provides a strategic and cost-effective avenue to address the interconnected challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation while at the same time making tangible headway towards the sustainable development goals,” says Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, which funded the report. 

Nature-based solutions provide critical investment opportunities, as they are cost-effective and provide multiple benefits. Investment opportunities in sustainable land management can increase fourfold by 2050 based on the long-term profitability of sustainable food and commodity production, critical to catalyse private investment. Protection of diverse ecosystems is highly cost-effective, representing 80 pc of the additional land needed for nature-based solutions while absorbing just 20 pc of additional nature-based solutions financing by 2030. Given the scale of degradation globally, restoration provides massive opportunities to strengthen ecosystem function and resilience to deliver the ecosystem services that people rely so heavily upon, says UNEP. 

Urgent action on two fronts: Repurposing nature negative finance and scaling investment in nature 

The report suggests that simply doubling or tripling investment in nature-based solutions will not be sufficient to reach the three Rio targets unless the almost USD 7 trillion finance flows to nature-negative practices are dramatically reduced and ideally repurposed in favor of nature. 

A major turnaround for nature is needed. The financial sector and businesses must not only increase investments in nature-based solutions but also implement incentives to redirect finance from harmful activities, fostering positive outcomes for nature. Government policies play a crucial role in creating an enabling environment for nurturing investment opportunities. Notably, investment prospects in nature-based solutions are flourishing, driven by the overhaul of global sectors such as food, extractives, real estate, and infrastructure—major contributors to nature’s decline. These opportunities rival those arising from the climate crisis, presenting a pivotal moment for impactful change. 



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