Countries adopt multibillion-dollar fund to protect nature

By Gloria Dickie and Isla Binnie

(Reuters) - Environmental leaders from 185 countries gathered in Vancouver, Canada, on Thursday to adopt a multibillion-dollar fund to support global conservation, and the United Nations called for contributions to help protect 30% of land and coastal areas by 2030.

The meeting comes eight months after governments agreed to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework — which some have called the "Paris Agreement for Nature", invoking the landmark 2015 U.N. pact to tackle climate change. More than a million species are estimated to be facing extinction, according to the U.N.

One of the framework's 23 targets is to help mobilize public and private sector players to funnel $200 billion per year to conservation initiatives by 2030, with developed countries contributing at least $20 billion of this every year by 2025.

"We are off to a good start," said David Cooper, acting executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. "We now call for further pledges from countries and from other sources so that the first projects under the new fund can be launched next year."

The fund has so far fallen short of the $200 million U.S. dollars it needs to become fully operational by December, as required by the World Bank as a trustee.

Canada on Thursday said it would put in 200 million Canadian dollars ($147 million) and the United Kingdom contributed 10 million pounds ($13 million).

"The time for half-measures has passed," said Oscar Soria, director of the non-profit Avaaz. "Surely donors can come up with the paltry $40 million" needed to get the fund up and running.

The fund launched on Thursday is managed within the Global Environment Facility (GEF) — a mechanism established under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change which has provided more than $23 billion to thousands of projects over the past 30 years.

The world's least developed countries and small island states will take priority and receive more than a third of the funds, with a target for as much as 20% to go to projects led by indigenous people and local communities, the GEF said in a statement.

(Reporting by Gloria Dickie in London, additional reporting by Isla Binnie in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Giles Elgood)