Thursday, October 18, 2007

Swapping Debt For Nature

The US has agreed to forgive approximately $26 million of debt from Costa Rica. The catch? Costa Rica has to use the money that would have gone to service the debt for environmental protection. Specifically, Costa Rica will "invest a similar amount in conserving high-risk natural areas that are the home to such threatened species as jaguars, squirrel monkeys and scarlet macaws. The funds will help protect important Costa Rican natural areas including the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, La Amistad, Maquenque, Rincón de la Vieja and the Nicoya Peninsula, officials said."

Debt-for-nature swaps are an exciting and innovative way to kill two birds with one stone: On the one hand, developing states can get out from under the crushing debt burden that stifle their domestic economies and strip valuable assets from the nation. On the other, it encourages developing nations to take a greater interest in protecting, rather than exploiting, endangered resources. Surprisingly, the Costa Rican deal is the 13th deal forged by the US (not to mention debt-for-nature swaps engineered by other counties, like one between France and Cameroon). Similar deals have protected endangered rain forests in Peru and tropical forests in Guatemala.

What's so surprising is that such deals have gotten so little publicity. I first heard of these deals only about a year ago, when it was reported that the US was negotiating the details of the Costa Rican agreement. But this seems to be case of win-win: the US can aid development in poorer parts of the world at the same time as it encourages responsible and sustainable environmental practices and conservation. So why is there so little attention being paid to these deals? It seems to me that, especially given current global antipathy towards American environmental positions and practices that the Costa Rican deal would be trumpeted from every available mountaintop in the US government.

Any suggestions as to why these policies are flying under the radar will be much appreciated (and if there are any graduate students reading this, this could make an excellent dissertation puzzle).


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Jeb Koogler said...

Interesting post, Seth. Hadn't heard about this. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.


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