How do we finance nature conservation?
The value of natural ecosystems is being increasingly recognized, as evidenced by the just-concluded International Day of Biodiversity. Ecosystems provide tangible and intangible services that make human life on earth as we know it possible. A report of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (2016) estimated that Philippine biodiversity resources contribute more than P2.3 trillion in services to the nation. Globally, natural ecosystems generate $125 trillion in global benefits a year, giving employment to 1.2 billion people, per the World Resources Institute.
Past ignorance and mismanagement have led to a catastrophic deterioration of much of the world’s ecosystems. Scores of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems have been modified to such a degree that threatens the capacity of planet Earth to support life. Scientists have linked the rise of disease epidemics like COVID-19 to the shrinking natural resource base.
The success of humanity in meeting the challenge posed by global environmental changes hinges largely on nature-based solutions (NbS). A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) titled “State of Finance for Nature” (2021) argues that meeting the global climate change, biodiversity, and land degradation targets requires about $4.1 trillion in financing for nature conservation by 2050. In contrast, the present level of investments in NbS amounts to only $133 billion annually. This level is a measly 0.10 percent 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 financing gap is to be closed.
In the Philippines, the government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, remains the chief financier of natural ecosystems management and conservation. The DENR seeks to reverse decades of overexploitation through initiatives like the National Greening Program and the integrated coastal resources management program. Despite the valiant efforts of the men and women in national government, their efforts are not enough.
Local government units must be capacitated and encouraged to invest in natural resources management since they are at the vanguard of grassroots development. There is a lot of truth to the observation that nothing happens in a town or city without the knowledge of local officials. An expanding cadre of enlightened local officials who see that development can proceed while preserving the natural life support systems is needed.
Civil society groups also play a critical 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 whose potential investment is immense. There are signs that this sector is beginning to wake up, realizing that addressing such issues as biodiversity conservation and climate change is the right thing to do.
Finally, and most critically, we have local and indigenous communities composed of millions of our people who live inside or in close proximity with natural ecosystems. They are the de facto managers of a large swath of uplands and coastal zones. Given the right policy and incentives, they can invest time and energy in sustainably managing fragile ecosystems.
Ultimately, financing nature conservation is everyone’s concern.
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Dr. Rodel D. Lasco is a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology of the Philippines. He is the executive director of The OML Center, a foundation devoted to discovering climate change adaptation solutions (http://www.omlopezcenter.org/).
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