Who will fund protected areas?

15 September 2003

A senior economic adviser has urged delegates attending the fifth World Parks Congress in Durban to find new funding mechanisms for the conservation of protected areas.

The World Conservation Union’s (WCU’s) Joshua Bishop says the private sector can play a vital role by ensuring that these areas sustain themselves financially.

In an interview with BuaNews, Bishop said that although many conservationists and NGOs were wary of the private sector, not all private companies should be painted with the same brush.

He said the issue of who should fund protected areas should not only be addressed by governments, because “governments have other responsibilities”, adding that the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility and World Wildlife Fund were not enough to fund these areas.

“The global society of nations should pay for protected areas, if you believe that nature conservation is of interest to everybody in the world and that everybody benefits from the preservation of wildlife of Africa”, Bishop said, adding that a multi-stakeholder approach was needed to get everyone involved with protected areas contributing equally. “We need to make sure that they are all holding up their weight.”

“We are all familiar with private sector involvement in eco-tourism; private companies providing management services for publicly owned parks. We need to find innovative ways where the private sector can participate in nature conservation.”

Bishop added that protected area managers should be given a mandate to charge entry fees from tourists so as to reinvest in the financial viability of their areas.

“We need to give more flexibility to protected area managers so that they can act more like entrepreneurs or businessmen themselves, so that they can see their operations as an enterprise, an economic enterprise that’s adding value to the national economy.”

Bishop was speaking after the release of a Conservation International report – compiled by international economists, governments, and protected area managers – which states that the world is facing a budget shortfall of about US$2.5-billion annually to effectively maintain and conserve national parks and protected areas.

The bulk of the shortfall exists in the developing world, particularly in African countries, which are rich in natural resources and biodiversity, the report said.

The study estimates that maintaining and expanding the global protected areas network, and conserving many of the world’s most threatened but currently unprotected plant and animal species, will cost approximately $23-billion a year over the next 10 years.

Bishop said the best funding model would be a mix of things – “not one silver bullet for everything” – involving tourism, payments for watershed protection, and contracts for bio-prospecting, where pharmaceutical companies or the bio-industry that wanted access to genetic information available in nature paid the community or the protected area manager.

He added that another model would entail certifying environmentally friendly products so that companies could get incentives while consumers would know that they were contributing towards nature conservation.

“When you produce food according to the criteria of the Soil Association, in a sense you are buying biodiversity. You are buying a form of farming that is friendly to birds and insects.

“Already in certified product markets there’s a kind of latent demand for biodiversity, and we need to get them out of the niche markets they are now in, and expand them so that they cover a wide range of the market.”

However, he warned that the “sticky” part of certification was formulating it in a way covered by World Trade Organisation rules, to avoid “product discrimination”.

Source: BuaNews