Natural (well) protected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean

March 12, 2024

CAF finances and mobilizes resources for the promotion and strengthening of protected natural areas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 1781, in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that “such is the economy of nature, that no instance is recorded in which any of her races of animals have become extinct.” More than two hundred years later, we know that this observation could not be more wrong: since the beginning of life on the planet, five episodes of mass extinction have been recorded, with abrupt drops in biodiversity, and scientists point out that due to the impact of the being human on the planet, we could be going through a “sixth extinction.”

With 50% of global biodiversity in its 20 million square kilometers, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is no stranger to this danger. According to CAF's ImpactoCAF report - Protected Areas for Sustainable and Inclusive Conservation, LAC ecosystems and the services they provide are at risk due to habitat conversion, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution produced by the agricultural sector, industry, mining, transportation, and tourism and the introduction of invasive species. This compromises the present and future capacity of the region to generate goods and services from nature and to develop in an environment favorable for human life. And it poses costs for economies through its impact on productivity, health, and resilience to climate change, which have been estimated at up to 3% of GDP in Colombia and Peru.
One of the main policies implemented globally and in the region to address this challenge is Protected Natural Areas - geographical, terrestrial, and marine areas with a clear delimitation, whose main objective is the conservation of nature. Recent studies in LAC find that the establishment of protected natural areas in forested areas reduces the deforestation rate by between 50 and 72%; and in marine areas, the quantity, average size of organisms and richness of fish species increases. They also find that protected areas reduce the poverty levels of local populations.
But for protected areas to function it is critical that they be managed effectively. Aichi Target 11, one of the globally agreed-upon goals to preserve biological diversity, speaks of “effectively and equitably managed protected area systems.” That is, they achieve conservation objectives and, in turn, the benefits of conservation translate into tangible and equitable socioeconomic benefits for the local population.
Now, according to the Protected Planet Report 2020, effective management begins with a good measurement of effectiveness. According to the Global Database on Protected Area Management Effectiveness (GD-PAME), as of July 2023, of 50 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, 32 have carried out the least evaluation of the effectiveness of their protected areas and only 16 have met the objective of evaluating 60% of their coverage (Aichi Target). Thus, 27% of the protected areas in the region, which due to their size are equivalent to 29% of the coverage of protected areas, have been evaluated under some methodology for measuring management effectiveness. This implies an improvement compared to what was reported by the Protected Planet Report for 2020, the year until which only 13.7% of protected areas had been evaluated, but there are still great challenges.
Unfortunately, like protected areas in other developing regions, those in LAC often face management problems that undermine their effectiveness. According to the report “Protected Areas for Sustainable and inclusive conservation”, cited above, part of these problems are due to the lack of human and financial resources. The budget allocations received by government agencies, plus international financing, only cover 54% of basic financial needs and 34% of what would be needed for optimal financial management of protected areas.
That is why CAF, with its commitment to become the green bank of Latin America and the Caribbean, finances and mobilizes resources for the promotion and strengthening of protected natural areas in the region. In recent years, CAF has mobilized USD 68.9 million with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and provided technical assistance of USD 1.5 million to strengthen the management of protected natural areas in the region.
In “The Sixth Extinction,” Elizabeth Kolbert argues that no other species has ever had the power to govern not only its destiny but also that of all species on the planet; and that is a huge responsibility. At CAF, we contribute by giving the value and relevance that biodiversity and strategic ecosystems in the region deserve.