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Blue Bonds Initiative Given Life through an MOU signing at COP 26

Prime Minister John Briceno signed onto a 3-page Memorandum of Understanding with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The MOU surrounds a Project Finance for Permanence Initiative (PFP). It is the first step towards the Blue Bonds Programme where all parties have come together to agree on paper their desire and plan to work together to design and develop a PFP by the end of 2025. The PFP will define the scope of the collaboration; the finance model that will be followed for a durable climate-smart conservation; and be open to further agreements connected to the conservation goals. The signing took place earlier today amid the multiple meetings and sessions in Glasgow, Scotland. Preceding the official signing was an interview with the three parties where the CEO for TNC, Jennifer Morris stressed the importance of this partnership.

Jennifer Morris, CEO, TNC: “I’m not sure many of you realize what a big deal it is that you have not just two but three of the biggest environmental NGOs actually working together. We are collaborating, we are sharing donor lists, we’re sharing donors, we’re talking everyday. It’s actually really transformational for our sector because I’m sure as Carter can appreciate our organizations often compete and so the fact that we’ve said look we don’t have time for that competition we have got to sit down together as a community and work together it’s really game changing so I just want to make that point and thank Carter for an incredible partnership. So in terms of TNC and our financial transaction so we want to help countries solve two big problems. One is in the case as Prime Minister Briceno was mentioning their debt crisis and obviously with COVID especially a country that’s so reliant on tourism like Belize or like Costa Rica and many others – I was just in Kenya saw exactly the same thing where we as conservationist have thought for so long well eco tourism is the best, it’s amazing ! You’re preserving nature, you get people to come and be educated about nature it’s great until you have a global pandemic and then it’s not a great choice for your economic model if that’s all you have. So what we’re seeing and trying to help in Belize and other countries is a model where we can as Prime Minister Briceno said take some of the debt burden and transition it into a conservation win. And so we’ve been working very hard with many partners for the last three years, eighteen months or so and there will be a very big announcement on Friday about this but just to say this is the second of what we’re calling the Blue Bonds Transactions. The first was five years ago in the Seychelles where the Nature Conservancy and partners worked very closely with the government of the Seychelles to create a marine protected area that is twice the size of the UK. Huge area, 30% of that country’s exclusive economic zone and in exchange they were able to reduce their debt burden. Really great outcome. We’re looking to do this in many other places and as you can imagine given the highly indebted nature of so many countries right now especially that were reliant on tourism and have an amazing biodiversity and have committed through the High Ambition Coalition to a 30 by 30 agenda they’re looking around and saying we want to do this but how do we pay for it. So our job in the donor community and the NGO community is to be there to provide the support that we can for them to achieve their goals because it is amazing all of these proclamations that were made today, the billions of dollars but at the end of the day if his government doesn’t have the budget or her government doesn’t have the budget or the communities on the ground don’t have the incentives and money that they need to conserve it’s all platitudes. So that is our goal is to really make sure that you all have the resources that you need. So whether it’s a debt swap or and a PFP which in many countries we’re seeing the need for both because one transaction alone will not fully fund the conservation that’s needed forever as Gustavo rightly said so how do we bring all these incredible opportunities together and help and support governments and the 30 by 30 ambitions. So that’s some of what we’re doing.”

Also taking part in the interview was Gustavo Fonseca of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). According to Fonseca, GEF has a history of working with protected areas. One of the notable projects is the protection of the Amazon Forest in Brazil through the project, Amazon Region Protected Areas.

Gustavo Fonseca, Global Environmental Facility: “So we started looking into what systems we could put in place and what innovation we could bring in finance and I think the first one that we realized is vision from beginning to now implementation for several years is the project that WWF actually jump started by building a political momentum that it came across back when President Fernando Cardoso was in power and he made a commitment to protect seventy million hectares of the Amazon forest in Brazil. So of course GEF joined into that effort and that patrimony is there. I mean the program is called ARPA the Protected Areas of the Amazon has been there since then it is expanding and it’s great. But again we faced the same thing there was a piece of that puzzle that was to be addressed on an endowment. The endowment faced the same hard wall. So what did we do ? We transformed that endowment into what we call a transition fund. What is this transition fund? We managed to get more donors involved, more finance involved including from private contributors and we created this long horizon in which this fund is a sinking fund that will last for twenty five or thirty years and it’s supposed to gradually substitute the financing of protected areas, the maintenance of protected areas from the fund to the government budget. So it’s not a traumatic thing that you have to make a political decision but over time and particularly if these countries are indeed true in their commitments to protect natural capital and to build the natural capital, to have a different model of development we believe that over time this transition is going to be made. And so this has been quite an interesting model and doesn’t lock in a huge amount of money but it’s very effective and we are managing to support these protected areas even through periods of hardship and what we learned is that during periods of hardship it’s double important that you have that lifeline that’s going from a sustainable financial instrument down to the protected areas and feeds their needs in terms of management because things can go wrong pretty easily and protected areas they should be here for the long haul.”

As Prime Minister John Briceno sat in the session with the major players of the Blue Bonds Initiative, he described the scenario as surreal. He expressed excitement at the move Belize is making to tackle its economic struggles.

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister of Belize: “Little did I know a year ago when we got elected we’ll be working on something like this. But it’s certainly quite exciting as I mentioned earlier that by signing this MOU with two of probably the largest NGOs in conservation it certainly will help us to be able to ensure that we keep up to our commitments. In many instances individuals and companies and governments sign onto agreements or agree to do certain things and they don’t but through this MOU it will help to guide us and to steer us to ensure that we can live to the commitments because the MOU is also tied to the announcement on setting up of the PFP that will be used to finance a lot of the marine conservation work that we are doing and need to continue to do in Belize. So certainly for me as the Prime Minister it’s a privilege and an honor to be able to sign on behalf of the people of Belize. Belize has been on the map when it comes to the issue of conservation. As it is we have more than 30% of our land already in some form of protection and with this agreement we expect by 2026 we’ll be having 30% of our oceans under some sort of protection. But what is important with what we’re doing today is that this gives us now the opportunity not only to have what you call paper reserves but the PFP gives an opportunity to countries especially small countries like ours that have difficulty in accessing funding to be able to ensure that we can have funding in permanence as what PFP stands for and for us in Belize we are very excited about it. When I met with the private sector, with the labor and the opposition and our NGO community and we explained as to what we’re doing and what this agreement that we want to work with both of you everybody was very excited about that opportunity. So I want to encourage other countries to look at what we are doing now and what some of the countries like Costa Rica has been doing and Brazil and Bhutan and to see this opportunity of finding the funds to be able to have your reserves not only on paper but also to really protect them for future generations.”

The document was signed by Prime Minister John Briceno, TNC’s CEO, Jennifer Morris and the President and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, Carter Roberts.