Protecting the planet's most precious and beautiful places requires a steady stream of resources and funding, but compared with the value of what nature provides, it's actually a bargain.
Think of it this way: If you invested your life savings, you could expect to benefit from the annual returns year after year. Protecting nature is similar to making a successful investment. It provides vital annual returns in the form of income, food, water and more. Yet humanity spends very little on protecting nature.
"People use nature because it's valuable, but people lose nature because it's free," said economist and Conservation International (CI) board member Pavan Sukhdev. "The pollination of bees is free, but no bee ever sent you an invoice. It's that whole attitude of not realizing that nature is valuable that drives part of its destruction."
This is where CI's Global Conservation Fund (GCF) steps in. GCF is helping countries and communities protect important natural areas for the long run.
Established in 2001 through a US$100 million donation from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, GCF spent many of its early years assisting in the establishment of protected areas — 77 in all.
Often there is initial funding to establish protected areas and reserves, but no money to support operating expenses. A continuing flow of financial resources is required to pay staff, purchase equipment, engage local communities, conduct natural resource monitoring, and enforce rules and boundaries.
"A lot of conservation work suffers from the up and down cycles of grant funding," said Chris Stone, managing director of GCF. "Projects are often constrained by the availability of funds to support ongoing work. GCF was established to address those problems in some of the world's biodiversity-rich ecosystems."
Places such as the YUS Conservation Area in Papua New Guinea where tree kangaroos bound through the montane forests; the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone where birds, butterflies and chimpanzees roam; and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in the Pacific nation of Kiribati where sharks, tuna and coral reefs thrive in one of the world's largest marine protected areas.
It's up to the governments, organizations and communities who run these areas to find sources of long-term funding; otherwise, these places become more vulnerable to environmental degradation.
GCF works with its partners to develop sustainable management plans, ensure that local communities benefit from conservation and establish long-term financing mechanisms to maintain these areas in perpetuity.
One solution to the problem of ongoing costs is conservation trust funds. With the help of donors and other partners, GCF has established 15 funds totaling more than US$135 million. Raising money initially takes place through gathering principal funding from GCF and other donors.
The interest generated by the resulting investments provides financial security for the protected areas. Local communities benefit in the form of jobs, training and development projects.
The success of these funds depends not only on money, but also on the partners involved. GCF has worked with a diverse array in establishing financial mechanisms — from multilateral donors such as the World Bank to national governments, private foundations and multinational companies as well as local nonprofit organizations. This variety of partners weaves together a strong constituency for conservation.
In addition to trust funds, GCF is involved in initiatives that benefit globally important ecosystems. It has assisted in the development of debt-for-nature swaps in multiple countries, facilitating foreign debt forgiveness in exchange for the creation and expansion of protected natural areas.
Increasingly, GCF is also engaging corporations, including major mining, oil and gas companies working in sensitive ecosystems. GCF advises them on structuring long-term financing mechanisms to support conservation offset programs.
Throughout all of its activities, GCF is helping people around the globe realize the value of nature by investing in it now and for generations to come.
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