September 13, 2014

Costa Rica Puts a Price Tag on Nature: Will it Work?

Editor’s note: The payments for ecosystem services (PES) strategy is a fairly controversial one: though it does provide strong incentive for sustainable practices, it also means monetizing natural features and linking the environment to an often unstable economy. Alvaro Umaña, Costa Rica’s first minister of environment and energy, gave the keynote address the 7th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference 2014 where he spoke about the successes, challenges and evolution of PES in his country. Umaña and others have reworked and revised their methodology to fit their unique country’s needs and it seems to be working. Camilla Zanzanaini and Fabrice DeClerck of Bioversity International covered his speech on the Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog.

Years of experience makes Umaña a solid speaker. He explains how PES has evolved over the last forty years from tax cuts for reforestation to subsidized credit schemes to certification. “It is useless to spend time designing the perfect programme,” shares Umaña. “You have to catch those political windows of opportunity when they come your way in order to move forward.” Many researchers have also highlighted this, emphasizing the risk of pioneering progressive environmental policies.

The payment checklist looks more like a shopping list than a conservation management plan: reforestation $980/ha, reforestation with native species $1470/ha, agroforestry with native species $1.3/tree…

An unfamiliar way to look at nature perhaps, but PES in Costa Rica has survived 5 different administrations, with around 16,000 beneficiaries involved directly in the package. Its popularity has soared, with the primary criticism centering around the inadequate funds generated by the country’s 3% gas tax.

Read the full blog post by Camilla Zanzanaini and Fabrice Declerck on WLE’s Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog and leave your comments below. Do you think that Costa Rica’s strategy can serve as a model for other countries?

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