£125m raised for world’s largest protected area of rainforest

An ‘all or nothing’ fundraising strategy has secured conservation of the Amazon Region Protected Areas for the next 25 years

By all standards the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) programme is gargantuan: the network includes over 90 parks, covers 51 million hectares, and comprises 15% of Brazil’s Amazon. Three times larger than all of the US national parks combined, it is the world’s largest protected area network. But protecting an area bigger than Spain is not cheap or easy. Now, a broad coalition of government donors and private funders have announced $215m (£125m) to secure ARPA over the next 25 years.

“The explosion in demand for natural resources has made our parks and world heritage sites vulnerable,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “So we convened leading financial thinkers and philanthropic partners to create a plan for a first-of-its-kind bridge fund to ensure ARPA’s inspiring success story can be told forever.”

Diverse funders include WWF, the World Bank, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Cargill Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the governments of Germany and Brazil among others (see full list below). Not only will the funds help better protect established parks, but it will also add another 8.9 million hectares of Amazon rainforest to the ARPA program, driving the total to over 60 million hectares.

ARPA was kick-started in 2002 as a part of Brazil’s pledge to triple protected areas in the Amazon rainforest. ARPA has drastically increased the amount of land protected in the Brazilian Amazon – by 23 million hectares – but it also upgraded long-neglected parks and created sustainable-use reserves for local communities and indigenous people. ARPA has also been lauded for helping to slow deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, one of the major environmental bright spots over the past decade. However, deforestation rates jumped last year by 28%, a trend some connect to recent changes in Brazil’s Forestry Code though scientists have also put forward several hypotheses.

Still, donors hope that by stepping up they will ensure greater protection and conservation effort for the world’s biggest rainforest. The $215 million will be distributed over the next 25 years, with payments decreasing as the years go on. Future funds will be dependent on Brazil meeting certain conditions. By 2040, funding responsibilities will be returned fully to Brazil.

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The impressive haul for a conservation project was achieved by using a method usually reserved for Wall Street, big infrastructure, or expensive industrial projects. Employing “project finance,” donors committed to an all-or-nothing strategy instead of the usual donor strategy of raising money dollar-by-dollar. This means that all details are agreed on before any money is put forward and all funds are brought in at the same time.

“We borrowed a page from Wall Street – you build together the capital to fund the whole thing,” Roberts told Bloomberg. “We put together a plan that would help Brazil close the gap over time. It’s all about the art of the deal and having a clear, singular vision.”

Funders say the ARPA model is already being used elsewhere.

“The question of replicating ARPA is no longer a theoretical discussion. Already in Brazil, the ARPA model is being replicated in the Marine and Coastal Protected Areas project, which aims to increase marine areas under protection by 70 percent. The concepts used in the implementation of ARPA are starting to inspire similar approaches to key ecosystems around the world, such as Africa’s Serengeti,” noted Naoko Ishi, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility.

Yet even as Brazil has set aside far more conservation land than any other country over the last decade, it has also stripped protections from a wide swathe. A study earlier this year found that between 1981 and 2012, Brazil took away protection from 5.2 million hectares, an area larger than Costa Rica. The bulk of this was between 2008 and 2012 and much of it linked to large-scale energy projects such as hydroelectric dams.

Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment says the Amazon rainforest currently contains between 10-15 percent of the world’s known species and is home to many indigenous tribes.

“There’s nothing bigger than ARPA. It’s the biggest conservation project of all time,” added Roberts.

ARPA’s donors for the next 25 years:

Amazon Fund/BNDES
Brazil Ministry of the Environment
Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (FUNBIO)
Brazilian private donors
Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany
Fundação Boticário
Global Environment Facility
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Government of Brazil
Inter-American Development Bank
Joseph and Carson Gleberman
Brazilian private donors
KfW German Development Bank
Linden Trust for Conservation
Margaret A. Cargill Foundation
Redstone Strategy Group
Roger and Vicki Sant
State Governments of Brazil: Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondonia and Tocantins
Wendy and Hank Paulson
World Wildlife Fund
World Bank

This article was first published on Mongabay.com.