Forests are highly valued for the wood and other non-timber products they provide such as fruit, food, medicinal products, and countless other benefits with aesthetic and spiritual value. Forests also play an important role in protecting the soil, generating water and oxygen, and housing very rich biodiversity. Their value to humanity is immeasurable. These attributes of natural ecosystems that benefit all of society are referred to as “environmental services”.
In many cases, forests are located on private lands whose owners have decided to protect their natural resources over the long-term in spite of the fact that their decision has costs and several challenges. Fortunately, beyond just private land owners, several Latin American countries are now providing further incentives for this conservation process on private lands.
Governments in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and others have implemented a series of very positive regulations and incentives that highly value the forests and promote their long-term conservation. These incentives come in several forms such as direct payment to the owner for each hectare of forest under conservation, tax relief, and access to credit at lower rates. This is a more traditional and effective way of preserving trees.
Another important and novel incentive is the Environmental Certificates issued by the environmental authority of each country. These certificates are granted to the owners of forests after undergoing a strict review process that assesses their property, including forests, natural grasslands, wetlands, and dry ecosystems. Once the owner passes the assessment and receives the certification, they gain access to valuable assets for the long-term protection of these natural resources. The financial and environmental benefits of this certification have created a market for certificates and a growing interest in investing in conservation initiatives.
On the other hand, a company that purchases the certificates also has the opportunity to compensate for any negative environmental impacts that it may cause. For example, a factory or farm could purchase these certificates to pay compensation for deforestation or for pollution caused by the emission of carbon gases and other greenhouse gasses. Due to these incentives and the need to protect our fragile resources, there are a growing number of private land owners, businesses, and institutions interested in purchasing the environmental certificates to demonstrate their commitment to the conservation of natural resources. In many cases, this “seal of approval” positively affects their sales to environmentally-conscious consumers because of the prestige and good image that is associated with protecting the environment.
Society as a whole benefits when those who support conservation are rewarded and the burden for rectifying the adverse environmental impacts a company causes is transferred back to that company rather than all of society. Such measures would have been difficult to put in place prior to the establishment of the Environmental Certificates and other legal frameworks that now requires conservation, mitigation, and restoration. Although our natural resources are truly priceless, having compensation schemes that could avoid and mitigate environmental damages is a powerful tool that will undoubtedly help in tackling part of the long-term conservation challenges in our region.