People in developing nations struggle to make a living with severely degraded landscapes and little or no access to freshwater. By leveraging their scarce natural resources, however, countries can rise out of poverty. To do so, they need a bigger monetary boost from the United States government, according to a budget report released last week by leading environmental groups.
International Conservation Budget Calls For More
While recognizing significant U.S. contributions to global conservation, the fourth annual International Conservation Budget highlights the urgent need to expand current spending. The report, published by Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund, was issued to legislators who oversee environmental policy.
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"If the developing world is not to face greater and greater chances of rural environmental destruction, more needs to be done to manage and protect their landscapes," said Representative Tom Udall (D-NM), a founding member of the bipartisan International Conservation Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. They need to do more for themselves, but America needs to show leadership in helping them.
Environmental Groups Recommend a $20 Million Increase
Increased U.S. foreign assistance in global conservation would provide poor nations with additional benefits on small and large scales.
As the largest government agency contributor to biodiversity conservation in the developing world, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been working with local communities to better manage their natural resources for more than 20 years. With CI and other partners, USAID is funding the Liberia Forest Initiative to support the countrys forestry reforms.
USAID also is helping Indonesian villagers protect brilliant coral reefs from harmful illegal fishing in the waters of Raja Ampat. In addition, the agency has renewed a five-year commitment to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, which fostered the regions first conservation treaty and new transboundary protected area agreements. To adequately fund these and other USAID biodiversity programs, the report recommends $20 million more in 2008 than the $165.5 million appropriated in fiscal year 2006.
Opportunities to Free Additional Funds
Fulfilling past U.S. pledges would also immediately free up considerable funds for existing efforts aimed at forecasting and adapting to the impacts of climate change and cleaning up international waters. If the United States was to pay half its arrears, about $85 million, to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) a multilateral institution of 32 donor countries and the largest international source of funding for protected areas more than half a billion dollars of non-U.S. funding would be made available for projects on the ground.
While we are pleased to see the Bush administrations proposed 2008 budget contains significant funding for programs, including a robust GEF request, we are very concerned about the size of proposed cuts to USAID investments in environment and biodiversity conservation, said Lisa Handy, senior director for U.S. Government Affairs at CI. "If the goal of U.S. foreign assistance is to build sustainable democratic, well-governed states that enable people to better their lives, then sound natural resource management needs to be at the foundation of these policies."
More Funding Needed to Support Debt-for-Nature Swaps
Looking ahead, the report urges expansion of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act, which authorizes funding for debt-for-nature agreements proven conservation tools when it comes up for renewal in 2008. Under the 1998 law, these agreements permit countries to exchange debt for commitments to local conservation.
Even before this legislation was passed, CI conducted the first-ever debt-for-nature swap in 1987. Since then, more than $135 million has been generated for long-term forest protection, most recently in Botswana, Guatemala, and Paraguay. For conservationists to apply this successful methodology beyond current areas, new legislation must provide funding at higher levels and broaden its eligible ecosystem coverage.
U.S. In Position to Safeguard Species Survival
With human activities on track to drive 60 percent of Earth's species to extinction by 2100, according to the report, aggressive U.S. involvement is necessary to curtail the growing list of threatened wildlife. Grants for anti-poaching enforcement, habitat protection, and public education have helped protect Sumatran tigers and marine turtles in 20 countries around the world. Yet these and many other species remain Critically Endangered. Stronger U.S. financial support could effectively safeguard their survival.
An increased U.S. government commitment to helping countries conserve their natural resources can be a useful element of U.S. foreign policy in the years ahead, said Udall.