Debt-for-Nature Swap: Costa Rica leading the way

"Money does not grow on trees," as a popular saying goes. However, we know that there is money in trees. I am not talking about logging. Now the value of trees is not only measured when they are cut and felled; trees are now valued by maintaining and conserving them through the debt-for-nature swap.

There are two kinds of debt-for-nature swaps. One is bilateral swap wherein one country forgives a fraction of the debt of another country in favor of forest conservation or reduction of deforestation. Another kind is mediated and facilitated by a third party like non-government organizations to help broker the transaction between two countries.

One of the leading and active debt-for-nature swap policy is the 1998 Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) of the US. It is giving values to the trees when they are kept standing through the debt-for-nature debt swap between the US government and low and middle income countries. It would be noted that most tropical forests are found in low and middle income countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, the Philippines, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Panama, Indonesia, Botswana, Brazil, etc.. These countries have availed of the debt-for-nature swaps with the support and help of non-government organizations such as Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.

One country is leading the way on the debt-for-nature swaps. Costa Rica is becoming a model and favorite recipient of this innovative method of helping financially developing countries and conserving biodiversity. Recently, Costa Rica received nearly $56 million in debt write-offs from TFCA and donations from Linden Trust for Conservation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. Costa Rica will use the money for expanding its forest and marine protection and conservation projects. Right now, the country has 25% of its national territory as protected areas. Costa Rica is on its way to meeting the Millennium Development Goals on biodiversity conservation in 2015. This achievement is another first for the army-less country of   more than 4 million people and first in the developing countries to be on target of the MDG on environmental sustainability. (Click here to see how Costa Rica is leading the campaign to meet the MDGs by cutting military budgets and putting those savings on social services)

If Costa Rica could do it, then other countries with remaining forest cover yet threatened by deforestation can consider the debt-for-nature swaps. Let us urge our governments to try this.

Now, money is growing on trees. Let us keep our trees standing for us and the next generations.

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