Is international aid for biodiversity targeted to the right countries?

Biodiversity aid has fallen short of donor commitments, but is relatively well-targeted toward areas of biodiversity need and good governance.

November 15, 2012

Daniel Miller

Biodiversity conservation has been on the international development agenda for at least a quarter century now. Yet, two decades after 192 nations met at the first “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro to develop estimates of biodiversity conservation costs, we know surprisingly little about the allocation of international aid for biodiversity.  

Much of the earth’s biodiversity—the variety of all forms of life, from genes to species to ecosystems—is concentrated in less developed countries. Given the lack of resources in many of these countries, the international community has long recognized the importance of resource transfers from wealthier to poorer countries to mitigate increasingly rapid biodiversity loss. Discussion of how large these transfers should be and who should provide them dominated much of the recent Conference of the Parties (COP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India.  Although recent studies (e.g. McCarthy et al.) provide estimates of the financial costs of reaching global conservation targets, knowledge of actual expenditures for this purpose remains very limited. Thus, international negotiations have occurred in the absence of reliable, global-scale information on the amount of aid flows for conservation and how well these flows have been targeted.   

My co-authors, Arun Agrawal (University of Michigan), AidData co-founder Timmons Roberts (Brown University), and I address this important gap in a forthcoming article in Conservation Letters. We use AidData to present a comprehensive assessment of official development assistance for biodiversity from 1980–2008. We found that biodiversity aid has fallen short of donor commitments, but is relatively well-targeted toward areas of biodiversity need and good governance.  

The good news is that biodiversity aid has increased markedly since 1980 (Figure 1). Like other types of aid, biodiversity-related assistance exhibits substantial inter-annual fluctuations, but a five-year moving average reveals an overall upward trend. We found that biodiversity aid averaged about $200 million annually in the 1980s, increasing dramatically in the early 1990s following the creation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 1991 and pledges made at the 1992 Rio Summit. Since 2002, biodiversity aid has shifted to a new average of $1.1 billion annually, a nearly five-fold increase from the 1980s.

Figure 1. Temporal trends in biodiversity aid, 1980-2008

More than 50 bilateral and multilateral aid agencies have provided biodiversity aid to 171 countries and territories since 1980 (Figure 2). The top five recipients include: India, Brazil, China, Mexico, and Indonesia. That the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility provided upwards of 60% of all aid during the study period underscores their importance in this policy arena. The top bilateral donors were the United States, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Despite the overall trend of increasing aid since 1980, however, funding falls well short of the amounts promised in Rio. We find that donor nations have not met their Rio commitment of at least $2 billion annually for biodiversity conservation in any year since the original conference in 1992. The total amount given ($18.5 billion) is less than 60% of the Rio promise ($32 billion in constant 2000 US$).

Figure 2.  Geographic distribution of biodiversity aid allocation to recipient countries. Recipient countries are divided into quintiles based on total aid received during 1980–2008, with the lightest shade of green indicating the bottom 20% and the darkest shade indicating the top 20% of recipient countries. Countries in grey received no biodiversity aid during the study period.

Even though biodiversity aid has not reached promised amounts, the aid that has been distributed appears to be reaching the “right” countries—those with greater conservation needs and better governance.

Drawing insights from previous studies of aid allocation, we tested whether key factors like the number of threatened species, geographic size, population, economic status, or governance in 137 countries were associated with the amount of biodiversity aid they received. Aid flows were strongly associated with national numbers of threatened species. This finding was robust for different measures of biodiversity need such as species richness and number of endemic species. We also found that better recipient governance, as indicated using the Worldwide Governance Indicators, was positively and strongly associated with the allocation of biodiversity aid. Government effectiveness and regulatory quality were especially strongly correlated with biodiversity aid.

The data, methods and findings we present in this article hold particular relevance for national and global conservation policy. Our study provides a baseline against which future aid flows can be compared. The method we developed to identify biodiversity-relevant aid can also be used as an independent, consistent means to track progress toward biodiversity financing goals. Indeed, we are now working with the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership to use AidData and our method for this purpose in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity target on resource mobilization by 2020.

The bottom line is that biodiversity aid appears to be well targeted, but that flows are insufficient to meet conservation needs in developing countries. Recent levels of biodiversity aid are well below both previous donor promises ($2 billion/year) and estimates of current needs (more than $75 billion/year). Negotiators at the CBD meeting in Hyderabad eventually agreed an extra $10 billion US per year to support conservation in developing countries. We now have a better knowledge of the gap between current expenditures, this commitment, and estimated funding needs. Moving forward, research is needed to track progress toward filling this gap and to assess the effectiveness of existing biodiversity aid in meeting conservation objectives.

This guest post is a continuation of AidData's series looking at the relationship between development finance and the environment. For more on the series, check out more here.