How do we finance nature conservation?
The value of natural ecosystems is increasingly recognized, as evidenced by the recently concluded International Day for Biodiversity. Ecosystems provide tangible and intangible services that make possible human life on earth as we know it. A report by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (2016) estimated that the Philippines’ biodiversity resources contribute more than 2.3 trillion pesos in services to the nation. Globally, natural ecosystems generate $ 125 trillion in global benefits annually, providing jobs for 1.2 billion people, according to the World Resources Institute.
Ignorance and mismanagement of the past have led to the catastrophic deterioration of much of the world’s ecosystems. Dozens of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems have been altered to such an extent that they threaten the ability of planet Earth to support life. Scientists have linked the increase in disease outbreaks like COVID-19 to the shrinking natural resource base.
Mankind’s success in meeting the challenge of global environmental change depends in large part on Nature-Based Solutions (NbS). A report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) entitled “State of Finance for Nature” (2021) states that achieving global goals on climate change, biodiversity and land degradation requires around 4 $ 100 billion in funding for nature conservation by 2050. In contrast, the current level of investment in NbS stands at only $ 133 billion per year. This level represents a meager 0.10% of global GDP, much of which comes from the public sector. The UNEP report further asserts that current spending must triple by 2030 and quadruple by 2050 if the funding gap is to be closed.
In the Philippines, the government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, remains the primary financier of the management and conservation of natural ecosystems. The DENR seeks to reverse decades of overexploitation through initiatives such as the National Greening Program and the Integrated Coastal Resource Management Program. Despite the valiant efforts of the men and women of the national government, their efforts were not enough.
Local communities must be empowered and encouraged to invest in natural resource management because they are at the forefront of grassroots development. There is a lot of truth in the observation that nothing happens in a town or city without the knowledge of local authorities. A growing cadre of enlightened local leaders who see that development can proceed while preserving natural life support systems is needed.
Civil society groups also play a vital role in nature conservation in the country. They are quick to embrace cutting edge ideas and can be vocal advocates. Then we have the private sector, the sleeping giant with immense investment potential. There are signs that this sector is starting to wake up, realizing that tackling issues like biodiversity conservation and climate change is the right thing to do.
Finally, and most importantly, we have local and indigenous communities made up of millions of our people who live in or in close proximity to natural ecosystems. They are the de facto managers of a large swath of upland and coastal areas. With the right policies and incentives, they can invest time and energy in the sustainable management of fragile ecosystems.
Ultimately, financing nature conservation is everyone’s business.
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Dr Rodel D. Lasco is a member of the Philippine National Academy of Science and Technology. He is the Executive Director of The OML Center, a foundation dedicated to finding solutions for adaptation to climate change (http://www.omlopezcenter.org/).
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