From: Michael Astor, Associated Press
Published March 30, 2006 12:00 AM

Developing Nations Look for New Ways to Fund Environmental Protection

CURITABA, Brazil — Urgent steps are needed to save the world's ecosystems from destruction, nearly 100 cabinet ministers agreed at a U.N.-sponsored environmental conference. But the question remained: Who will pay for it?

Industrialized nations have failed to meet their commitments to the Global Environmental Fund and developing nations and environmental groups are now looking to private sector partnerships for funds.

Funding was a central issue at the eighth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, which ended Wednesday.

When the Global Fund for the Environment was created at the U.N.'s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, organizers expected nations to donate US$7 billion (euro5.81 billion) a year.

But instead of amassing the planned US$77 billion (euro63.87 billion) over 10 years, the fund has only US$10 billion (euro8.3 billion).

"Biodiversity may be a sideline issue for other people, but for us it's a matter of life and death," Palau's President Tommy E. Remengesau said Tuesday night. "The key point is to translate words into action. We need to follow commitments with real, practical action."

Remengesau said his country keenly feels the effects of global warming.

"The sea levels are rising, bringing salt water on to our agricultural lands," he said.

On Tuesday, Remengesau launched what he called the "Micronesia challenge," which aims to protect 2.6 million sq. miles (6.7 million sq. kilometers) of the Pacific Ocean -- roughly 5 percent of its surface -- by 2020.

To fund the project, he hopes to raise money from governments, international lending institutions and the private sector to create an endowment bearing interest that will cover those costs indefinitely.

"We're hoping that this will be an inspiration and will have a snowball effect," said Remengesau, referring to the funding of the endowment. "Merely designing protected areas doesn't address our needs."

The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International each pledged US$3 million (euro2.5 million) to the endowment, dependent on matching funds from governments, international lending organizations and private companies.

"These endowments are the wave of the future, said Nigel Purvis, vice president of external affairs for The Nature Conservancy. "But first we need the governments to make commitments to protecting their environment to have something tangible to fund."

One of the few concrete announcements at the conference was made possible through an endowment developed by Conservation International and the New England Aquarium.

On Tuesday night, the government of the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati announced a new marine protection area placing some 73,800 sq. miles (184,700 sq. kilometers) off limits to commercial fishing, protecting precious coral reefs and undersea mountains.

Kiribati's Environment Minister, Martin Tofinga, said the creation of such a reserve was possible only thanks to an endowment that will help defray lost revenue from tuna fishing licenses.

"We have to preserve all our rich marine resources, but one of our main sources of revenue is fishing licenses," Tofinga said.

Russell A. Mittermaier, president of Conservation International, said a US$50 million (euro41.5 million) endowment for Madagascar has helped significantly restore that nation's forests and could be a model for many other countries.

But he warned money alone wasn't enough to ensure lasting protection.

"You have to design the trust funds properly, put together structure and targets. Is it perfect? No. But it provides sustainable funding for the future," Mittermaier said.

Source: Associated Press

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