Over the course of the past two decades in the Caribbean, there have been various project attempts to develop environmental or natural capital accounting by promoting the application of economic valuation methods to land or marine based ecosystems. These efforts have often been mostly research-oriented, ad hoc, and locally targeted. None, if any, of them has materialized into any systematic national public valuation and/or transformative value accounting for the services that our ecosystems provide.
As citizens of biodiversity-rich Caribbean-basin coastal and archipelagic tropical island states there should certainly be an acute awareness of the backbone services that our beaches, reefs, mangroves and forests provide to key economic sectors such as tourism, food production, and water. Logically then we might ask, just how, and how much, are we really, financially putting back as public re-investment towards sustaining the quality and quantity of these resources; given our natural asset dependency and associated economic benefit/profit?
Traditionally and typically natural resource conservation and sustainability investments have been paid for through intermittent, insufficient and piecemeal domestic finance, grant and/or private philanthropy initiatives. Often, Government spending on conservation are the first budgets to be sacrificed when countries are in acute fiscal distress. When current means and sources of financing are sporadic; reforestation, soil conservation and watershed management efforts also suffer the consequent negative symptoms of this inconsistency.
Rather than contending with this variability, the time has come to directly build into public budgeting and accounting systems, sustainable sources of finance, proportionate to the value of and linked to the services that the ecosystems themselves provide.
In recent years, Jamaica has been doing some very interesting things to advance this cause. Via the efforts of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in October 2014, the Government secured an investment grant of US$3,909,441.00 from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with the objective of biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, management and development of a payment for ecosystem services (PES) scheme for the Yallahs and Hope River watersheds.
The Yallahs Hope Project watersheds supplies 42% of the potable water requirements for the country’s capital Kingston as well as the surrounding Metropolitan Region. Several of their sub-catchments are under severe pressure from: deforestation for agriculture, land degradation from fires, soil erosion and past natural disaster impacts. Maintenance of the quantity and quality of the metropolitan water supply (future water security), in an uncertain climate future; essentially demands sustainably financed and sustained investment in soil conservation, good land husbandry, and reforestation derived from and/or proportionate to the value of the benefits that all residential and commercial consumers of the fresh water resource, enjoy.
Using the grant, NEPA along with its sister Government agencies with relevant mandates will principally be:
- identifying and targeting priority zones within the watersheds requiring rehabilitation;
- developing an economic basis of valuation, fund collection, and sustainable-finance management model on which the supply of ecosystem services can be paid for by the resource consumers;
- developing a costed, multi-year, multi-agency operational game-plan and governance mechanism for implementing and monitoring required best practice land management measures.
For a natural-asset-dependent economy trying to advance progress on debt reduction, consolidate fiscal management and improve national resilience, bringing the operationalization of a PES scheme on the public balance sheet would be positively revolutionizing and innovative.
The Government would be managing, seeing, and benefiting from a:
- directly watershed-correlated revenue stream for re-investment in sustainable water resource management;
- higher-productive, better coordinated and more efficient value-return on its current investment in line agency budgets;
- reduction in transactional competition between domestic agencies for additional resource mobilization to effect watershed management;
- non-competitive, multi-source, single-fund business model, for national integrated water resources management (IWRM); and an,
- institutional and accountability architecture resulting in higher potential future resource capture and attractiveness for domestic and international public and private funders including purveyors of climate, biodiversity and natural capital lab
Outstanding overall, is the key challenge of having the Government and particularly the Ministry of Finance, see these benefits and adjust allocation of finances from an IWRM perspective with the objective of maintenance of ecosystem services for economic sustainability.
Photo: courtesy of Yallahs Hope Project Team, 2018