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Investing in natural resources

Investing in natural resources

Sustainable financing key to growth in environmental sector

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 3, 2008
July 3, 2008
Stacey Moultrie

The Bahamas may not be rich in oil or gas or coal but its economy is crucially dependent on natural resources. The reefs, crystal clear seas and powder-sand beaches are what make these islands one of the premier tourist destinations on the planet. It is not only tourism that benefits from keeping our environment pristine; the fishing and agricultural industries are also dependent on nature’s bounty. It is imperative to the continued success of The Bahamas that the island nation finds the resources and know-how to properly protect and manage the environment.

In recent years, the environmental sector has grown, spearheaded by both private and public organizations. Efforts have been made to broaden our knowledge of  the ecology and biology of natural systems. This has resulted in many countries taking the decision to protect select areas to try to maintain them in as pristine or natural a state as possible.

Protected areas represent special places in the world which are managed for conservation purposes. Globally the system comprises some 30,000 sites, covering 13.2-million square kilometres (more than the combined area of China and India). Current protected areas in The Bahamas comprise over 283,000 hectares of land and sea.

Such programmes present investors with an opportunity to enter the sector in overt projects such as ecotourism and developing more green technologies or simply conduct more eco-friendly practices such as using solar energy, recycling or donating a percentage of profits to environmental groups. The key is to develop sustainable finance for green initiatives and for the management of protected areas in order to nurture the sector’s growth and prevent the decline of major economic drivers such as tourism that are based on natural resources.

Need for financing
While many protected areas exist, very few of them are managed effectively; insufficient financing is one of the root causes. In an effort to address this, the Convention on Biological Diversity along with several international institutions has developed a Programme of Work on Protected Areas consisting of tools that assist countries in improving management of these areas. One such tool is sustainable finance planning. Another tool is the economic valuation of the benefits of protected areas.

A sustainable finance plan helps to determine the protected areas’ funding requirements and to match income sources with those needs. Financial planning differs from financial budgeting in that it not only identifies how much money is needed for different types of activities, but also locates the most appropriate funding sources for short, medium, and long-term needs.

The goal is to be able to fund the management of protected areas over the long term, so it is sustained. This may require development of new and innovative mechanisms and design of flexible systems that enable various mechanisms to be employed to address the financing needs of protected areas.

Some of the mechanisms discussed so far include a protected area trust fund that will be established with funding from government, non-governmental organizations and international donors. This fund will enable a continual flow of cash into the protected areas system through investment of the fund capital rather than just a one-time cash infusion. With an initial trust fund of $12 million, it is expected that with a five per cent return, the fund will generate $600,000 annually. It is hoped that over time this fund will be increased through additional contributions.

Another idea would be to garner contributions from development projects providing a percentage of the development’s projected worth either into a fund or directly for operations of specific sites. Initial discussions have indicated a one to five per cent contribution that would be standard for all development projects.

Early Action Grant
Under the National Implementation Support Program (NISP), the Bahamas Environment Science and Technology (BEST) Commission, Department of Marine Resources, Bahamas National Trust and The Nature Conservancy have been working cooperatively with stakeholders throughout the country to help The Bahamas implement the CBD programme. As a part of NISP activities, a sustainable finance plan has been developed for the national system of protected areas. This was funded by the NISP Early Action Grant of approximately $120,000 and the implementation of the plan will begin with funding from the United Nations Development Programme Early Action Grant of about $105,000.

The plan, completed in mid-April of 2008, will be presented to Cabinet for its endorsement and will be implemented over a period of years with the plan setting short-term (one to three years), medium-term (three to five years) and long-term (more than five years) goals.

Economic valuation of the benefits of protected areas will be assessed through a project funded by the NISP Partners and the Global Environment Facility, which is an environmental funding division of the World Bank. The project will involve placing dollar values on natural resources in two national parks—the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and the Retreat Gardens in New Providence—and documenting the contribution of these areas to the national economy through the ecological services these areas provide, eg maintenance of fishery stocks, biodiversity conservation and groundwater quality.

Investing in natural resource conservation through protected areas and similar activities is an investment in the Bahamian economy. If we lose the species, habitats and resources that attract tourists and investors to our shores, we destroy the very things that our economy is built on.

Bio
Stacey Moultrie
Born and raised in New Providence, Stacey Moultrie is a graduate of the University of the West Indies, where she obtained a BSc in marine sciences and fisheries, and Dalhousie University, where she obtained a masters in marine management. She is currently the senior policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy Northern Caribbean program. Her experience in environmental issues spans 13 years and includes work in the public sector at the Department of Environmental Health Services and the BEST Commission. She is also a member of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) and a chartered scientist with the Science Council of the United Kingdom.

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