Biodiversity: Finding the funds to keep Latin America green

October 17, 2012

  • A fifth of the region’s territory has been set aside for conservation – far surpassing the developing world average of 13%.
  • Despite conservation progress, current national budgets are not keeping pace with the needs.
  • Novel approaches to financing preservation efforts are at forefront of Latin America’s programs.

From the Peruvian Andes to Mexico's white-sand beaches, Latin America and the Caribbean plays home to 34% of the world’s plant species and 27% of mammals, making it one of the world’s biodiversity ‘superpowers’.

And with a fifth of its land set aside for conservation, the region is also a world leader in protecting those levels of biodiversity, according to a new report, ‘Expanding Financing for Biodiversity Conservation’. (pdf 4mb)

But preserving the region’s biodiversity –the lifeblood of millions of creatures, plants and people- could take more than just the collective “green” will of Latin Americans. It’ll also involve a collective wallet full of the kind of ‘green’ that keeps the world turning. The estimated price tag: around US$76 billion globally.

For the past two decades, Latin America has been ‘at the forefront of global biodiversity conservation,’ with 20% of the region's land set aside for conservation, as opposed to an average of 13% in other developing regions.

The region's leadership relies on novel approaches to financing preservation efforts, such as building public-private partnerships, payment for environmental services schemes, incentive-based conservation contracts and co-management with communities and NGOs, amongst others.

While the report recognizes the great strides the region has made, ensuring long-term sustainability requires increased finance, a challenge for any country in the current economic environment.

“There are a lot of areas that have been demarcated, but in order to really make sure they remain protected, you may need more than demarcation. You may need rangers; you may need overall park management, and so on. So it costs money, it’s not just marking it on the map,” says Karin Kemper, the report’s author and World Bank Sector Manager for the Environment.

The report argues that despite the progress made in conservation, current budgets are not keeping pace with financing needs.

On average, Latin American governments allocate just 1 percent of national environmental budgets to protected areas, which amounts to an average of $1.18 per hectare.  This figure only covers 54 percent of the basic needs, the report notes.

Preserving biodiversity isn’t solely for the benefit of ensuring the region’s forests remain green and the rivers clean of pollutants. It’s primarily about the everyday lives of all Latin Americans, since maintaining the delicate balance directly affects their quality of life, adds Kemper.

“If you have areas, as we do in Latin America and the Caribbean, where soil has been compacted due to deforestation, you don't get infiltration in the soil. You may then have no ground water available, or very little, for human consumption,” she explains.

With many of the region’s most vulnerable ecosystems located in highly prized and valuable areas, agriculture, mining and urban sprawl put further pressure on conservation efforts. In Mexico, for example, the loss of forest resources due to deforestation, has affected 12 million people, who depend on the woodland for or to complement their income.

" Recognizing the potential of ecosystems for economic and social growth […] can help transform biodiversity conservation into an engine of growth, a growth that is more inclusive and greener. "

Expanding Financing for Biodiversity Conservation

Regional success stories

Over the past 20 years, the Latin America and Caribbean region has set aside 20% of its land for conservation, a total which greatly surpasses the 13% average for other developing regions.  Novel approaches to financing preservation efforts include building partnerships to garner non-public finances such as payments for environmental services, incentive-based conservation contracts and co-management with communities and NGOs, amongst others. 

 The following examples illustrate some key ongoing approaches to biodiversity conservation.

  • Local communities are the bed-rock of Colombia’s conservation efforts. Under pressure from expansion in agriculture and the extractive industries, the government has expanded conservation areas through the implementation of ‘conservation mosaics.’ These mobilize local communities to preserve and restore land surrounding the country’s national parks or protected areas.
  • In Peru, funds to help conserve the country’s 63 protected areas are guaranteed through a system of match-funding. NGOs and local organizations bid for contracts to manage certain protected areas on the agreement that they match the funding offered by the government. So far, US$20 million has been raised for 10 protected areas, taking the financial burden off the government.
  • Urban sprawl, the extractive industries and agriculture have put pressure on Mexico’s forests and coastal areas in recent years. Alongside regional and local conservation programs, a payment for environmental services scheme has also been implemented, paying forest landowners to maintain their woodlands to protect the ecosystem and reduce the risk of deforestation. A similar scheme is also operation in Costa Rica, considered the most biodiverse country in the world.
  • Playing home to 20% of Brazil’s remaining Atlantic Rainforest; the state of Rio de Janeiro derives funding for maintaining 46 protected areas from multiple sources. As well as voluntary donations, thanks to the Atlantic Forest Fund, the state is also able to call upon environmental compensation from industry, domestic and international grants along with carbon credits.

The four approaches highlighted above, as well as in the report, offer the region practical lessons in successful financing schemes to protect and maintain millions of hectares of vulnerable ecosystems. As the report concludes, recognizing the potential of these ecosystems “can help transform biodiversity conservation into an engine of growth, a growth that is more inclusive and greener.”