Spare a Dime for Biodiversity – Funding Conservation

‘So I must leave, I’ll have to go. To Las Vegas or Monaco. And win a fortune in a game, my life will never be the same.’ you might hear the Bornean River Turtle, the Malayan Tapir or the Sumatran Rhinoceros whistle the famous ABBA song ‘Money, money, money.’ And indeed, as members of the 2,517 threatened species in Southeast Asia, what they all have in common is their need for money. Conservation needs resources. The survival and well-being of all species require healthy ecosystems, whose conservation depends on long-term, extensive and effective funding. ‘Money, money, money. Must be funny, in the rich man’s world.’

ABBA – Money, Money, Money


Billions in a Blink

And fortunately we do live in a rich man’s world, where money is plentiful. Just look at the global financial markets: The estimated volume of derivative financial products equals a fantastic US$ 720 trillion, dwarfing even the total world’s GDP of US$ 62 trillion. Billions are moved in a blink. Clearly the money is there. It’s just a matter of spending it right, for instance, on the conservation of biodiversity, sustaining the livelihoods of some 600 million people in Southeast Asia alone. However, annually only US $ 19 billion make their way to conservation, while at least $ 80 billion would be necessary for the maintenance and establishment of conservation areas to effectively protect the world’s biodiversity. This is less than 20 % of the global annual spending on soft drinks.

No Magic Bullet

Just take Southeast Asia, harboring immense treasures of biodiversity, which are rapidly lost. Yet, there remains a huge gap of conservation funding, which the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) knows all too well. Based in Los Baños, Philippines the regional organization coordinates efforts on biodiversity conservation and sustainable management. When their initial funding by the European Commission phased out in 2010, the Government of the Philippines stepped in for the core funding, complemented with project related funding by others, e.g. GIZ, the German Development Cooperation. Still, this money is not sufficient to fund the center’s mandate on the long term. ‘A short attention span of donors, decreasing growth in donor countries and competition with other causes’ are the main reason, explains finance consultant Robert LeBlanc. ‘The amount of available money is stable, but split on more topics. There is no magic bullet’. It becomes clear that ACB, and conservation as a whole, need to tap other sources.

Making the business case for biodiversity certainly helps. The private sector starts to feel the impacts of unsustainable value chains. ‘Take cashew butter. When cashew trees are burned ever more for palm oil plantations, food companies have a serious supply problem.’ says LeBlanc. ‘Also, social responsibility is now expected by the shareholders of the 2000 largest companies at the stock markets.’ Conservation can bring into play such self-serving interests of companies and capitalize on the need to act sustainable. ACB and others just have to focus on their strengths, and how they can assist others on their way to become green – be it scientific research or policy coordination.

That’s good news for turtles and tapirs. So let’s have a closer look what their funding options in the ASEAN region could look like.

Rhino Trusts and Turtle Stamps

Take the Bakun Watershed in the mountainous northern Philippines which generates a lot of hydroelectric power, the rest of the country benefits from. Therefore, the host communities of the dams receive a national wealth tax, they can then spend on reforestation, watershed management, public health, and conservation. The formerly priceless watershed services with all its biodiversity are now paid for by the beneficiaries.

Also the beneficiaries of the Bunaken National Park, in North Sulawesi pay for the enjoyment of nature’s services. Visiting divers now finance the conservation programs in the park, and have helped to conserve over 1,000 species of fish, dugongs, marine turtles, and other threatened marine species that live in the region.

If forests are more your cup of tea, why not buy 100 square meters of rain forest? More precisely, its restoration and protection. The Malua BioBank in the Malua Forest Reserve in Malaysia offers with its Biodiversity Conservation Certificates an opportunity for private sector companies working in Malaysia to help fund 34,000 Hectares rain forest area that is home to pygmy elephants, orangutans and rhinos.

And indeed, the Sumatran rhino needs special attention, with its population rapidly decreasing. That’s why Indonesia and the United States have a long-standing rhino partnership. The joint Sumatran Rhino Trust pays the government of Indonesia $60,000 per rhino captured for a captive breeding program, in order to lessen the impact on wild populations.

Well, $60,000 is perhaps a bit much. And what to do with a Rhino in your backyard? So perhaps the next funding model is more appealing and affordable: A couple of cents for the next postcard. Perhaps from Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) natural wonders. In 2007, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and national postal service of PNG issued a new series of postal stamps that feature the six species of endangered marine turtles found on the Island. And these are only 6 of the 1,500 different wildlife stamps, issued in 211 countries. Having sold more than 1 billion stamps WWF could fundraise millions for the conservation of endangered species.

The Stakes are High

Endangered species like the Bornean River Turtle, the Malayan Tapir or the Sumatran Rhinoceros might soon be off the hook, if we are only resourceful enough to tap innovative funding and financing strategies. With dwindling biodiversity and the loss of its services, the stakes are high. In the words of Mr. LeBlanc: ‘If I was sitting next to the president of the USA, I’d tell him to support ACB, and conservation, in his interest’. After all, ABBA’s fundraising advice might not be of much help to a turtle or a rhino: ‘In my dreams I have a plan. If I got me a wealthy man I wouldn’t have to work at all, I’d fool around and have a ball… Money, money, money. Must be funny, in the rich man’s world.’

First published 08 Feb 2014 Written by Philipp Gassner / Special to the BusinessMirror