Ireland the first West-European country to use the BIOFIN methodology

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While the Emerald Isle conjures images of lush green rolling countryside and rugged coastlines, Ireland’s biodiversity is in trouble. It's been found that 91% of major habitat types are in unfavourable conditions with species loss also faring unfavourably with once familiar species such as the curlew and yellowhammer birds now on the Irish Red List of most conservation concern. This is according to researchers who have undertaken the first National Biodiversity Expenditure Review (NBER) report for the country.

Craig Bullock, from University College in Dublin and Rachel Morrison from the University of Exeter, undertook the assessment for Ireland's National Parks and Wildlife Service using the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) methodology based on BIOFIN’s flagship workbook.

Ireland is the first West-European country to use the BIOFIN methodology to track and mobilise finance for biodiversity.

In the following interview, Craig Bullock and Rachel Morrison give a glimpse of how the BIOFIN methodology was used and provide an overview of the different steps taken in the process and discuss the approach, methodology, and background of the analyses.

What are some of the main financing sources/mechanisms Ireland uses for biodiversity conservation?

Craig Bullock: Essentially in Ireland most of the expenditure for biodiversity is channelled through government department and agencies, which is responsible for 97% of expenditures. There are some expenditures by local governmental authorities and by NGOs as well but even those two groups tend to be supported to some extend by central government.

The majority of spending is supported through the government and there is no international aid as a developed country. There is no real source of carbon finance, but it would be true that a lot of expenditure is either under underpinned or justified by EU policy and EU transfers -that would be the case for 40% the expenditure takes place.

Rachel Morrison: Eighty percent of expenditures was really substitute driven and so very much linked to sustainable use, reducing harmful agricultural and marine impact. That’s another sort of key element of the way that finance conservation is structure in Ireland. There are small initiatives on hunting fees, fisheries, plastic bags etc, but most of these coming through public sector finance and heavily co-financed or co-supported through the EU. As a result, there is little dedicated finance and a much more integrated finance model.

Why is the BIOFIN methodology interesting for Ireland?

R.M: what we wanted to do was to identify and track flows of biodiversity finance, and how they were related to national and international conservation targets and objectives. We recognized that estimating biodiversity expenditure from the start is by no means an easy exercise.

It was quite an experimental study to scope out what was going on, starting to engage with how we are going to do this. I looked into what international methodologies were out there and were available and that led me BIOFIN. Individual countries have gone in different ways with measuring biodiversity expenditure but there was not really an internationally accepted methodology to use. I really thought it was crucial for national counterparts in Ireland to continue to replicate the study that we have done. Our ambition was very much that they could continue to track biodiversity expenditure over the next few years and fulfil future reporting commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

What is very attractive about BIOFIN is it is clearly embarking on a journey of trying to improve in this area. I started the journey with the 2014 Workbook and a few months later BIOFIN released the 2016 workbook and I was able to see considerable differences in this evaluation and what was going on with the methodological thinking.

The methodology provided us some flexibility on how we ccould recognize some expenditure and having a stepwise coefficient approach to become embedded in the BIOFIN workbooks. By applying these coefficients we can recognize how different contributions under different policies can be counted as biodiversity expenditures. For example there are considerable differences between policies related to conservation finance for national nature reserves and agricultural environmental schemes or initiatives to limit fishing from the oceans around the islands. We were able to recognize the contributions in different ways using the BIOFIN methodology so that was that was really very valuable for us.

BIOFIN has clear complementary follow up steps by undertaking financial needs assessments and strategic financial planning so we hope to see how in the future, the National Park Service would be able to build on what we have done in the biodiversity expenditure review and really think strategically in developing a financial plan in the future and how they could mobilize resources.

C.B: When you are starting on a project like this, the amount of data that exists on the biodiversity expenditure and the multitude government department and institutes that are involved – it is really quite intimidating. So I think the availability of the BIOFIN method provided the structure to bring information together, which is in a comprehensive fashion that is one of the biggest contributions of the methodology. It provides the baseline for which to collectively analyse data in the future.

What results/lessons came out of the Biodiversity Expenditure Review?

C.B: I suppose in terms of results and probably no surprise, but still a shock to find agricultural support in many developed countries particularly in EU accounted for a large share of the total biodiversity expenditure. It would appear that 70% of Irish expenditure relates to Aichi Target 7 in agriculture and agricultural forestry. A significant amount of expenditures go to that particular target. A lot of that expenditure is indirect in the sense that it is supporting farming, providing some biodiversity payoff as well, particularly in relation to agri-environment schemes.

R.M: It revealed some of the unevenness in spending for biodiversity finance and some relates to, quite simply, considerable annual variation. Some other unevenness in spending in Ireland was linked to terrestrial biodiversity with a very small percentage related to marine.

Are you planning further work on biodiversity finance following the BIOFIN Methodology?

C.B: We are hopeful of getting some funds to undertake a financial needs assessment. We would like to go back to a lot of people we consulted and find out exactly what is needed for them to finance biodiversity adequately, what they would like to do in the future and how much it is going to cost. Also, then undertake a resource mobilisation strategy/finance plan and see where these resources could come from.

The amount is varying, depending on indirect governmental expenditure to agriculture to forestry. Biodiversity elements of such expenditures are particularly vulnerable to changes in the respective government schemes that could reduce their importance. We’d like to investigate other mechanisms such as payments for ecosystem services, biodiversity offsets and carbon finance, because the issues they address are relevant for us in Ireland too. And also private finance for conservation, which may have potential in Ireland.

We have been the first engaging in this new area. Biodiversity expenditure is a very important starting point for dialogues and discussion and also to engage the Ministry of Environment for advocacy reasons.

Interview by Gamze Akarsu.