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The Nature Conservancy
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:



In order to address new and emerging challenges, and plan for a future which allows all people to live sustainably, it is essential that natural resources are managed effectively. Healthy ecosystems are the very foundation upon which societies depend, through critical ecosystem services such as: food and water security; materials for shelter; income from tourism and sustainable use of terrestrial and marine resources; and protection from climate change impacts and natural disasters. We are, however, currently degrading that natural capital at a rate that threatens human development. In October 2011, global population reached 7 billion; by 2050, it is predicted to be over 9 billion. By that time, the world will likely add another 3 billion middle class consumers. Increasing demands on food and water, and the expansion of hard infrastructure have created a ?nexus of need? for those with responsibility for, and expertise in, human development planning and environmental management to work cooperatively and, indeed, seamlessly, to adopt a holistic approach to future planning. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report estimated that under a business-as-usual scenario, ?a year?s natural capital loss would lead to a loss of ecosystem services worth in the order of US$2.0-4.5 trillion over a 50 year period? ? as much or more than the total financial capital lost during the 2008 financial crisis. If we do not become more conscious of the impacts of our actions, and collectively change our practices accordingly, resource constraints, natural capital loss and climate change will produce negative feedbacks that could limit sustained and sustainable development and growth.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) provides a unique opportunity to address these challenges, particularly through the theme of ?a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication?. A green economy is one that is ecologically and economically healthy and productive, which provides social benefits to improve people?s lives. The maintenance of healthy natural resources, which has been a theme running through international discourse and documents over the past few decades, including the legally-binding, as well as ?soft? law outcomes from the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development, and the targets and timetables in the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, underpins our collective capacity to achieve a green economy. Addressing implementation of such commitments through appropriate enabling conditions, tools and policies that facilitate the development and ?scaling up? of innovative approaches should be a core issue in the outcome document for Rio+20.


With reference to a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, the Rio+20 outcome document should refer to the following issues as necessary to create a new global development paradigm: ? Recognizing the fundamental role of nature as a solution-provider to development challenges, such as food, water, and energy security, poverty alleviation and human health, further efforts to mainstream and integrate the values of ecosystem services as integral to development planning are necessary. In particular:
o Improving valuations of natural capital as part of national accounting frameworks.
o Scaling up payments for ecosystem services across sectors.
o Creating supportive policies and incentives to mainstream the value of nature, and activities to maintain natural systems, into development planning processes.
o Creating policies that position natural infrastructure as a building block for a new green economy, by integrating natural infrastructure into the processes of infrastructure planning and investment.
o Creating policies which enable planning at whole river basin scales.

 Example: Through payments for ecosystem services mechanisms such as ?water funds?, operational in Latin America, downstream water users, such as municipalities and corporations, are compensating upstream land managers to keep the watersheds clean and healthy. This public-private partnership for ecosystem services ensures continued water quality and availability for cities, and provides a more sustainable and cost-effective solution than the ?gray? alternative: construction and maintenance of water treatment plants. Valuing natural capital, through payments for ecosystem services, should be included in the outcomes for Rio+20.

? Recognizing the importance of oceans and coasts to achieving economic and social development objectives (often referred to as a ?blue economy?), it is imperative to catalyze action towards achieving sustainable management of oceans and coasts. Notably, sustaining the economic prosperity and welfare of coastal communities and states will require implementing and scaling up a suite of marine and coastal conservation tools and community planning initiatives. In particular:

o Scaling up efforts to protect and restore critical ecosystems that provide important ecosystem services and social and economic benefits.
o Mainstreaming the value and importance of marine and coastal ecosystem services and promoting ecosystem based approaches in adaptation to the impacts of climate change and disaster risk reduction strategies.
o Integrating ecosystem considerations into marine and coastal development planning through the use of marine spatial planning and strategic environmental assessments.
o Improving sustainability of fisheries, and in particular coastal fisheries, through leveraging community-based and rights-based approaches to fisheries management and galvanizing investments in, and market demand for, sustainable seafood that supports and facilitates reforms in fisheries management. o Promoting sustainability standards and increased sound investments in ocean businesses and technologies.

Example: Through the Micronesia Challenge, the Caribbean Challenge, the Coral Triangle Initiative, and the progression of the new Western Indian Ocean and Coastal Challenge, island and coastal states are responding to common challenges and working together to sustainably manage their natural resource base. In the Micronesian sub-region, the three independent states and two US trust territories are completing the process of valuing their ecosystem services and the financial cost to maintain them, and established the Micronesia Conservation Trust to fund sustainable development activities in perpetuity. By working collectively, these states are better able to share experiences, leverage their successes, and plan for the future. In order that these commitments to sustainable marine resource management become the effective building blocks within the context of a new green economy, and so that the international community can learn from their respective challenges and innovative solutions, further efforts to integrate and invest in such experiences will be necessary.

? Recognizing the asset value of ecosystem services, all actors (states, private sector and civil society) need to cooperate in developing new and innovative finance mechanisms within a green economy to provide sustainable sources of funding for natural resource management and social development planning. Such mechanisms include debt-for-nature swaps; conservation trust funds; and compensation for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation.

Example: Debt loads of developing countries are an ongoing burden which greatly limits their ability to implement effective development plans and reduce poverty. Recently, by forgiving a portion of such debt, the United States has increased Indonesia?s capacity, both immediate and long-term, in relation to management of the forest sector. Increasing the use of debt swaps as a finance mechanism within the green economy, has the potential to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

? Recognizing the contribution of all actors (public, private and civil society) in establishing a new holistic green economy, and noting that many are not formally represented in traditional international legal processes, the creation of international norms needs to further evolve, to one that includes a suite of more flexible and open approaches involving actors from a range of sectors and interests. The current nine major groups? framework does not allow the kind of collaborative and open exchange of ideas and lessons that will be required within a new sustainable development paradigm.

Example: The Nature Conservancy and Dow Chemical have embarked upon a collboaration to help Dow and other companies recognize, value and incorporate nature into global business goals, decisions and strategies. The aim of the collaboration is to advance the incorporation of the value of nature into business, and to take action to protect the earth?s natural systems and the services they provide people, for the benefit of business and society. The lessons they learn will also help governments, at national and sub-national levels, as well as other corporations and organizations, to more accurately value their ecosystem services and plan both for the immediate and long-term. There is currently, however, no space within the international system for such lessons to be shared. Creating the space for non-state actors to interact more effectively with governments would help ensure that relevant expertise is available to assist societies in finding creative solutions to the challenges they face with regard to transitioning to a green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

? Recognizing that for the outcomes of Rio+20 to be effective, they will need to be integrated into a number of multilateral processes related to sustainable development. Of particular importance, the revision of the Millennium Development Goals provides a critical opportunity to learn from past experiences and include new and innovative approaches that have proven to be cost-effective, sustainable and have multiple benefits. Over the past few decades, there are a number of examples that demonstrate that nature-based solutions have contributed to solving key development challenges. Sustainable management of natural resources can, and should, be given a higher priority within the global development agenda and be further integrated in other development goals particularly in preparation for the post-2015 development framework.


The Rio+20 outcome document should focus on what is required to implement the commitments and pledges already delivered in previous sustainable development fora and documents, and include what we have learned, and what we need to focus on to improve our planning, as guided by science. We know that forest conservation is a low-cost solution to a significant part of the climate mitigation problem, comprising up to 40% of the cost-effective near-term measures to limit warming to 2 degrees. We know from experiences in New York City, Bogota and Quito that upper watershed conservation is a cost-effective solution to water quality and availability issues for cities, compared to building filtration plants. We know from Thailand and Vietnam and Louisiana that restoring mangroves and coastal estuaries is a cost-effective way to protect coastal communities and infrastructure.

The outcome document should provide a way forward to build upon these concepts, including in discussions across the financing for development, sustainable development, environment, climate change and biodiversity-related fora within the UN system. Rio+20 needs to commit to a global investment program in the planet?s natural capital, because the earth?s natural systems are cost-effective solution providers.

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