The U.S. government has forgiven $26 million in debt Costa Rica had owed it, and in exchange, Costa Rica will work with Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy to instead spend that much to preserve tropical rainforests.
It is the largest ever "debt for nature" swap ever agreed to, according to those involved.
Cost Rica will spend $26 million over 16 years, and the U.S. will spend $12.6 million according to provisions in the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. The two conservation groups will each kick in $1.26 million so that the debt can be purchased at a discounted rate.
"For more than 30 years, weve been working in Costa Rica, which has always been at the forefront of Latin American conservation, said Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Costa Rica is teeming with natural beauty, biodiversity and threatened species, from jaguars to squirrel monkeys to scarlet macaws. And as an increasingly popular tourist and retirement destination, it faces increasing development pressure. Were glad to have this opportunity to continue working with local people and government and nonprofit partners to protect this magnificent place for generations to come."
Established by the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act, debt-for-nature swaps enable the United States to forgive a countrys foreign debt in exchange for the participating governments commitment to devote a specified amount of money to conservation work, and meet other economic and political benchmarks. The act is being re-authorized by Congress, and its scope could expand to include coral reef protection.
Peter Seligmann, the Conservation International chairman and CEO, called it an example of "modern conservation."
"The Costa Rican tropical forests are home to a rich variety of life and provide the natural resources depended on by people living in and around them," he said. "They also are important for slowing global warming because they store atmospheric carbon, one of the greenhouse gases causing climate change."
Cutting and burning tropical forests contributes 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all the worlds cars, trucks, trains and planes combined. Costa Rica has reversed a deforestation trend that had seen it lose almost 80% of its original forest cover. It now has replanted and reclaimed previously deforested areas, with 52%of the country now forested again.
The areas selected for protection are top priorities, according to a recent scientific analysis. Here's how The Nature Conservancy describes them:
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