Our Perspectives

Dollars and 'sense': Paying for our planet


Tigers in IndiaIn India, a 2015 study valued six tiger reserves at US$24 billion and US$1.2 billion per year. People travel half the globe to see tigers. Photo: UNDP

Celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity today serves as a strong reminder of the value of nature and ecosystems to human life and the well-being of our societies.

As today’s celebration coincides with the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, it is worth noting the role biodiversity and ecosystems play as the backbone of tourism in many places, and equally worth noting the crucial role that the tourism sector can play in conserving biodiversity. This is undeniably a nexus to pursue, particularly for financing effective conservation.  

I was lucky enough to spend many years living and working in Africa and Asia, regions where the interplay between biodiversity financing and tourism is strongly evident.

In Namibia, tourism became the second largest industry after mining, overtaking fisheries and agriculture in the 2000s.  In the country, sustaining tourism means maintaining nature – the very asset that draws visitors from around the world. A government commissioned study reveals that investment in enhancing national park management could yield up to 42 percent of economic return.

Tourism in Namibia contributes to more than 20 percent of GDP and provides over 20 percent of the country’s employment. Community based tourism provides direct benefits and opportunities for people who live inside and around national parks.

Similarly, in India, a 2015 study valued six tiger reserves at US$24 billion and US$1.2 billion per year. People travel half the globe to see tigers. But what does it take for the Indian government to ensure that there are sufficient financial resources to effectively manage protected areas?

Finance is at the heart of all conservation efforts. Our Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) offers an innovative way to tackle this.

This global project supports 30 countries, working directly with governments, national development agencies, and the private sector, to assess the national biodiversity finance landscape, map how much is being spent and where, find out the crucial financial needs and shortfalls, and identify and develop a plan for the best opportunities to close the gaps.

The foundation of the BIOFIN process is accurate knowledge through research. While some estimates say the global financial need for biodiversity conservation is between $150 billion and $440 billion every year, we need to gather more evidence at the country level.

In the Philippines ­– one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots – BIOFIN's work with several government agencies found a gap of around $378 million per year (or around 80 percent of current finance) to properly implement the official national plan to protect and manage biodiversity.

The next step is identifying an appropriate mix of finance solutions to increase resources, decrease expenditure that has a negative impact on biodiversity (e.g. subsidies that encourage deforestation), and try to increase cost-effectiveness of fiscal instruments and expenditures. The prioritised finance solutions are included in a Biodiversity Finance Plan that will guide each country on how to reduce their biodiversity finance gap.

In the Seychelles, a country entirely dependent on tourism, there is a strong business case made to the private sector about the importance of biodiversity leading to further development of the ecotourism sector.

Hotel owners and tourism operators are now directly involved in, and committing their own resources towards eradicating invasive alien species, (such as rats and goats), protecting sea turtle nesting sites, restoring coral reef and mangrove ecosystems and other conservation actions that are not only good for the environment – they are good for business.

But we still need greater support at the highest levels from both countries’ institutions and society. BIOFIN is beginning to catalyse this change.  

With better knowledge of the state of investment in safeguarding natural capital and the right finance solutions combined, supported by strong advocacy from those who yield influence, we can mobilise the critical finance needs for biodiversity.  This is essential to support nations’ efforts to maintain and grow their natural assets for the benefit of people and future generations.  

Midori Paxton Blog post Sustainable development Ecosystems and biodiversity Environmental finance

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