The concept of "debt-for-nature" is one of those ideas that seems so simple, logical and intrinsically "correct" that you wonder why it has not been around for years.
The has long been a "cancel the debt" movement to help developing countries escape the burden of paying back the money owed to western countries that was often incurred by corrupt leaders squandering money on white elephants (not literally) and military hardware. Such interest payments were often a good percentage of the GDP.
The solution that will also help protect the environment, prevent deforestation, maintain the existing carbon sinks and retain exiting biodiversity levels, is to swop debt for nature.
There are undoubtedly criticisms of "debt-for-nature" and it could be argued that this is a form of colonialism or exploitation (especially if if prevents local people making a living) but it still offers a partial solution to a growing problem. The other issue of course is how the "nature" is protected after the swop has been made.
Finally, the US deserves some rare praise for initiating this deal.
A Landmark Deal for Nature Conservancy in Costa Rica
The Nature Conservancy has brokered the largest debt-for-nature swap in history — a deal that will secure long-term, science-based conservation for Costa Rica’s tropical forests:
* The United States will forgive $26 million in debt owed to it by Costa Rica.
* This move will in turn provide necessary funds that will be used to finance forest conservation in Costa Rica over the next 16 years, protecting one of the world’s richest natural treasures for future generations.
And science — the Conservancy's hallmark — is at the center of the deal.
"This debt swap is unique in that it utilizes scientific analysis to determine the sites towards which the funds will be directed,” says Zdenka Piskulich, program director for the Conservancy in Costa Rica.
Biodiversity Under Threat
Costa Rica is a small nation — but it's home to some of the largest tracts of concentrated biodiversity on Earth. Its lush tropical forests are home to several endangered species such as jaguars, quetzals, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, tree frogs and a host of other wildlife.
However, Costa Rica's natural treasures are under increasing pressure from human activity. Logging, development, agricultural expansion, gold mining, overfishing and unregulated tourism are just some of the factors threatening the country's ecosystems — and making the deal critical for nature and the people who depend on it.
"The funding that is a result of this debt swap will also allow local communities, 80 percent of which live in The Amistad Region, to pursue sustainable and economically viable livelihoods, thus improving their lives and sustaining the biodiverse resources on which they depend," said Piskulich.
Six Areas Will Benefit
The $26 million will be used to conserve Costa Rica’s magnificent forests in six areas — sites chosen from a blueprint of conservation gaps that the Conservancy helped create for Costa Rica.
* The Osa Peninsula is where rain forest meets sea in the Southwest corner of Costa Rica. The Osa is home to the jaguar, squirrel monkey, Baird's tapir, Scarlet Macaw, more than 370 bird species and a large variety of plant life.
* The Amistad region contains the largest untouched tract of rainforest in Costa Rica. The Amistad region borders Costa Rica and Panama and is home to a wealth of wildlife—including the ocelot, Baird’s tapir, giant anteater and more than 350 species of birds.
* Maquenque — home to the Great Green Macaw and ocelots — is rich in natural habitats including wetlands, lagoons, and forests.
* Tortuguero lies near the Caribbean Sea and consists of rich expanses of forests. It provides a safe refuge for jaguars, Green Macaws and several species of turtle.
* Zona Norte del Rincon de la Vieja is the area north of the Rincón de la Vieja volcano. The area has rich dry forests and is home to deer, peccaries, sloths, pumas, toucanets and 257 species of birds.
* Nicoya Peninsula in southern Costa Rica is home to beautiful beaches and rich rainforests. It is home to jaguars, ocelots, coatis, sloths and a wide variety of plants and birds.
What is a Debt-For-Nature Swap, Anyway?
Debt-for-nature swaps are an innovative mechanism to sustain long-term conservation efforts in countries with rich tropical forests.
Countries eligible for a debt swap use their debt payments to finance tropical forest conservation under the guidelines of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1988.
This agreement is the largest debt-for-nature swap under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act and the eighth swap facilitated by the Conservancy. The Conservancy and Conservation International contributed over $1 million in the United States toward the deal. The U.S. government is providing $12 million towards the agreement.
The debt swap has been a coordinated effort between the Costa Rican Government, the Costa Rican Central Bank, the U.S. Treasury, U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, the Conservancy and Conservation International. The $26 million from the debt swap will be disbursed from a Conservation Trust Fund that will be managed by an oversight committee and administered by CRUSA (The Costa Rica USA Foundation).