CI at 25: Thinking — and Funding — Outside the Box

Guyana Waterfall

Protecting unspoiled landscapes — like Kaieteur Falls in Guyana — requires innovative financing solutions. (© CI/ Photo by John Martin)

Throughout 2012, as we celebrate CI’s 25 years of impact, Editorial Director Todd Christopher is recounting the ways CI has been changing the face of conservation. Today he focuses on innovative financing.

Nature, like everything it provides us, is invaluable — but protecting it isn’t free. Choosing conservation over exploitation presents a real opportunity cost, and protecting, restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems require significant manpower and resources. But since we all rely on a healthy planet for our well-being, there’s no greater investment we can make.

Since its founding, CI has designed and implemented innovative ways to finance meaningful conservation efforts and outcomes. In 1987, CI broke new ground by signing the first-ever debt-for-nature swap agreement with the government of Bolivia, purchasing a portion of that nation’s foreign debt in exchange for the protection of almost 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) in and around the Beni Biosphere Reserve — and inspiring many similar deals that followed.

CI also pioneered the use of conservation concession agreements, which present unique land-use alternatives to destructive practices like logging. By orchestrating payments to the holders of extractive rights for not exercising them, CI found a way to turn the tables and create both an ecological and economic upside in local communities. CI’s conservation concession agreement with the government of Guyana was the world’s first, bringing 80,000 hectares (almost 198,000 acres) of forest in the Essequibo watershed under protection.

At the dawn of the new millennium, CI’s efforts to create reserves in Suriname through the Tropical Wilderness Protection Fund grew into the Global Conservation Fund, becoming the single most effective instrument of its kind by supporting the protection of 79 million hectares (more than 195 million acres) of land and sea.

Todd Christopher

Todd Christopher

CI’s commitment to ecosystem finance continues today with a portfolio of complementary funds that leverage each other’s investments. The Carbon Fund not only supports nascent forest-based projects that address climate change while benefiting local communities, but also improves their access to voluntary carbon markets. And Verde Ventures invests in small and medium-sized businesses that contribute to both healthy ecosystems and human well-being — nice returns, by any account.

Todd Christopher is CI’s editorial director. Read other posts in our “CI at 25″ blog series.

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