Costa Rica's "Debt for Nature" Swap - US forgives debt in exchange for nation's commitment to "conserve and protect" land


October 17, 2007

By Linda Yun
Conservation International

An historic debt relief agreement with the United States frees up tens of millions of dollars to protect Costa Rica’s lush tropical landscape.

Under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act, the United States agreed to forgive $26 million of Costa Rica’s debt in return for the Central American nation’s commitment to redirect that money toward conservation inside its borders. The U.S. government appropriated $12.6 million for the effort. Both Conservation International (CI) and The Nature Conservancy each gave $1.26 million to the debt purchase at a discounted rate.

“This is how modern conservation works, with dynamic partnerships involving all stakeholders to protect ecosystems that sustain life on Earth,” says CI Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann.

The swap brings much-needed relief and attention to areas teeming with wildlife in the Mesoamerica Biodiversity Hotspot. Where the rain forest meets the sea on the Osa Peninsula, jaguars (Panthera onca) and Central American squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii) co-exist with nearly 400 species of birds. La Amistad National Park, containing Costa Rica’s largest untouched tract of rain forest and some of the only known populations of the threatened frog, Oedipina grandis, is surrounded by local indigenous communities who are working with CI and The Nature Conservancy to pursue sustainable livelihoods.

Other landscapes that stand to benefit from the arrangement include Tortuguero’s fragile habitat near the Caribbean Sea, the Maquenque wetlands and lagoons in the north, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano’s dry forests, and the central dry forests of Nicoya Peninsula.

With support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and other partners, our scientific research helped identify all of these sites as gaps in Costa Rica’s conservation planning and in critical need of conservation dollars.

“The Costa Rican tropical forests are home to a rich variety of life and provide the natural resources people in the region depend on,” says Seligmann. “These forests also are globally important for the role they play absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere, slowing global warming.”

Deforestation accounts for a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions – more than the world’s cars, trucks, trains and planes combined. After losing almost 80 percent of its original forest cover, Costa Rica’s restoration efforts have brought new forests to half the country. By protecting them from activities that cause deforestation, Costa Rica is leading the global effort to mitigate climate change.



Largest Debt-for-Nature Swap for Costa Rica Forests

Originally posted Oct. 19, 2007

at Timeless Sky

The Nature Conservancy has brokered the largest debt-for-nature swap in history — a deal that will secure long-term, science-based conservation for Costa Rica’s tropical forests:

  • The United States will forgive $26 million in debt owed to it by Costa Rica.
  • This move will in turn provide necessary funds that will be used to finance forest conservation in Costa Rica over the next 16 years, protecting one of the world’s richest natural treasures for future generations.

And science — the Conservancy's hallmark — is at the center of the deal.

"This debt swap is unique in that it utilizes scientific analysis to determine the sites towards which the funds will be directed,” says Zdenka Piskulich, program director for the Conservancy in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a small nation — but it's home to some of the largest tracts of concentrated biodiversity on Earth. Its lush tropical forests are home to several endangered species such as jaguars, quetzals, scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, tree frogs and a host of other wildlife.

"The funding that is a result of this debt swap will also allow local communities, 80 percent of which live in The Amistad Region, to pursue sustainable and economically viable livelihoods, thus improving their lives and sustaining the biodiverse resources on which they depend," said Piskulich.