Last week the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held in Hyderabad, India.  The CBD is the prime international diplomatic instrument by which strategies to protect global biodiversity are negotiated.  It is, therefore, an important indicator of humanity’s collective response to tackling the biodiversity crisis.

At the Hyderabad conference, important policy outcomes included greater emphasis on marine biodiversity, but the prime achievement was an agreement for developed countries to double the global budget for biodiversity conservation, to an estimated $12bn by 2015.

This doubled budget sounds impressive, and $12bn sounds like a great deal of money.  But what does $12bn buy these days? It’s approximately equal to :

  • 126 fighter jets, bought by the Indian military from Dassault of France in Jan 2012
  • Total pay and bonuses paid by US investment bank Goldman Sachs in 2011
  • The net worth of Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, as of March 2012
  • The 2011 GDP of the British Channel Islands
  • The profit of technology company Apple for the second quarter of 2012
  • The estimated 2012 global total consumer spend on online multiplayer computer games
  • A little less than the total cost of the 2012 London Olympics

In other words, the impressive-sounding doubling of funds for biodiversity conservation turns out to be pocket money on the global financial scale.

So, what might be a more satisfactory figure? A recent report in the journal Science estimated that the total annual cost of improving the conservation status of threatened species and effectively managing key habitats worldwide is an estimated $76bn per year, significantly greater than the $12bn promised by the Hyderabad conference.  This $76bn is still a minor sum in the scheme of things – as the report’s lead author points out, it is less than 20% of annual global consumer spending on soft drinks.  To make another comparison, $76bn is less than half-a-percent of the GDP of the world’s richest nation, the USA (whose attitude to this matter is reflected by its status as one of very few countries to fail to ratify the CBD).

It’s worth noting that even the $76bn figure proposed only addresses the most endangered species as listed by the IUCN, and the conservation of key habitats – in other words, it’s fire-fighting, not addressing the roots of the crisis.  When the global diplomatic process can only agree such relatively small sums to attempt to stem the tide of the sixth mass extinction, it seems our species has got its budget priorities very badly wrong.