Biodiversity investment ‘central' to development says Former Costa Rican Finance Minister

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Guillermo Zúñiga Chaves leads UNDP’s support to the Costa Rican Government for the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN). From 2006-2010 he was Finance Minister of Costa Rica. In this interview, he speaks of the importance of investing in biodiversity as a central part of his country’s wider development efforts, and how BIOFIN helps. 

 

Why would a Ministry of Finance, not Environment, be interested in increasing funding for biodiversity conservation?

Biodiversity guarantees life and supports development in the long run. When you look at it this way, it’s easy to understand why someone from the financial world would want to invest in our National Biodiversity Strategy.

As Minister of Finance I learned that you need money to make things happen. If you want to fight against poverty, you need money. If you want to invest in roads or schools, or hospitals, you need money. If you want to develop a strategy for biodiversity, you also need money.

The important fact is that this strategy must be part of the National Development Plan and must include the productive use of the biodiversity into the National function of production. This means that biodiversity is not just for environmentalists. It must be understood as a central issue for national development. In this way, it becomes clear that the money you use for biodiversity it is not expenditure, but an investment for the development of the country.

 

Is protecting, sustaining and fairly sharing the benefits of biodiversity particularly important for Costa Rica? If so, why?

I believe that sustaining and protecting biodiversity has become a national issue. For years our children have heard of the need to do this. It has also been insisted that doing more, biodiversity will benefit everyone.

Everyone knows Costa Rica as a ‘green country’. It has given huge benefits to all of us and has become part of our culture over time. This national consciousness is the result of campaigns in schools, universities, television and the press in general. Costa Ricans feel proud of our biodiversity, yet we still don´t know everything that we can get out of it. But it is certain that our future as a society is closely tied to protecting nature.

However, sharing the benefits from biodiversity is something people know less about. We need to work harder on this. Media coverage on better benefit sharing is sporadic at the moment. The BIOFIN policy and institutional development process in Costa-Rica also showed that this is not yet adequately included in our national legislation.

 

What has been the economic impact of recovering and conserving forest ecosystems in Costa Rica so far?

We’ve enjoyed great economic benefits from our unique and beautiful biodiversity. Through extensive conservation and restoration efforts, our forest ecosystems give us more wood, we’ve helped sustain water needed for hydroelectricity and we’ve helped sustain livelihoods tied to the ocean and fisheries. We’ve also helped develop interesting tourism activities that, at the same, time, create many jobs and boost business opportunities for small firms.  So I think is a successful case.

 

What are the remaining obstacles for the Costa-Rican Ministry of Finance to further mainstream biodiversity conservation into fiscal planning?

The Ministry of Finance is dealing with a projected deficit of -6.7% of GDP for the next year. That is a problem in itself. At the same time the National Biodiversity Strategy must be concluded and should be incorporated in the National Development Plan.

The Ministry of Finance is working to restore fiscal equilibrium at the level they decide on, as well as ensuring, by the Ministry of Planning, that biodiversity is included in the National Development Plan. It will then become clear how to fully mainstream biodiversity conservation into fiscal planning. Following this there will be technical adjustments in the budgeting process. This is already underway. In fact, this year the National Budget Office has begun to identify the environmental expenditures, investments in a more precise way, yet my first evaluation of this great effort shows that we still have a long way to cover.

 

Is BIOFIN helpful in overcoming these obstacles?

BIOFIN helps. It is a purely financial project and we don’t expect anything more than that.

We are working to secure all financial resources, from inside and outside our country and from the public and private sectors. The clearer and more concrete the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is, the easier it is to quantify the resources we need.  It is also easier to work out a plan on how to get these funds. This plan will be given to the authorities.

Through BIOFIN, we will find out exactly how much extra money we will need in the next years and for what purpose.

 

What progress have you made implementing BIOFIN so far? and are there aspects you think other countries could learn from?

BIOFIN has a standard methodology for all 19 pilot countries, but the way information is gathered differs from country to country.

We have finished the reports on policy and institutional review. It gave extraordinary information and we now are waiting to present it to the National Directing Committee to make it public.

We are waiting for the National Biodiversity Strategy to be adopted to continue with other parts of the job. We’ve built superb working relations with the new government authorities after a very smooth transition in may this year. We have also built great relations with business. The co-ordinating body of all chambers of business people (UCCAEP), has worked closely with the BIOFIN Project team. We have worked hard at developing this relationship, and we have done the same with the Costa-Rican bank association. At the end of the day they also use, and benefit from biodiversity.