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Investing in conservation is essential and affordable

© David Thomas/BirdLife International

Global conservation investment still falls far short of what is needed. Conservation financing is rarely sustained, and often not directed to where it can do most good. The biggest shortfalls are in developing countries—often biodiversity rich, but economically poor. Those who benefit from biodiversity as a global good have an obligation to contribute more to looking after it. Effective biodiversity conservation is, in fact, easily affordable, requiring relatively trivial sums at the scale of the global economy.

Key messages and case studies

Conservation of biodiversity requires a major increase in investment
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Effective biodiversity conservation at a global level will require a very large increase in investment. In particular, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, developed countries have promised to make available new and additional financial resources to developing countries but to date this has not happened on anything like the scale necessary to do the job. A large part of this investment is needed to go into correcting the imbalance in the way that the costs and benefits of biodiversity conservation are distributed. By and large, the costs are borne locally—often by poor people in rural areas forgoing the benefits they would otherwise gain from converting natural habitats or exploiting natural resources. The benefits from conservation, in contrast, accrue on a much wider scale, nationally and globally (Those who enjoy the benefits of biodiversity conservation should pay the costs).

We can afford to conserve global biodiversity if we want to
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Although the scale of the overall task may seem daunting, there is unquestionably a great deal that can be achieved. Indeed, some major tasks are well within our collective financial grasp: it has been estimated that ensuring the integrity of the world’s existing protected areas would cost only an extra US$2.5 billion, while expanding the network to safeguard most wild species would cost a further US$22 billion. On a global scale, these sums are trivial. Current global funding on protected areas is only around US$7 billion, of which less than US$1 billion is spent in the developing world, which holds most of the world’s biodiversity (More needs to be invested in biodiversity conservation, especially in developing countries, An effective African Protected Areas network needs more resources but represents excellent value).

Funding for conservation can be delivered through a variety of mechanisms
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There are many ideas for increasing the investment necessary to fund conservation; these include involving private donors, encouraging commercial sector investments and partnerships, and developing new markets for conservation-friendly products, ecosystem services and carbon credits (A strategy to finance conservation of protected areas: An example from Madagascar). However, the overall amounts needed are such that the major source for the foreseeable future is bound to be tax revenue, raised by governments.

Priorities must be set to target scarce resources
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Understandably, a great deal of effort is expended by conservation organisations in trying to increase the resources available for conservation work. Meanwhile, it is important that the best possible use is made of the resources that are available. This entails careful selection of priorities (e.g. Different broad-scale conservation priorities overlap extensively, Birds are valuable indicators of global patterns in biodiversity), and trying to ensure that work carried out in response to those priorities is undertaken in as strategic and efficient a manner as possible (Security or sustainability first? The fate of Endemic Bird Areas depends on the choices we make).

Many actions are underway but there are still gaps
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Conservation measures have been proposed for all globally threatened bird species and key actions have been started for the majority. These actions range from species-specific actions to conservation of sites, through to broad-scale initiatives. However, for only one in twenty threatened species have all key actions been implemented (Are we doing enough to save the world's birds?) and for only a quarter of threatened species has this yet led to any improvements in status (Are actions having any effects?). For many species, needed research is being undertaken but direct interventions are still lacking (For globally threatened gamebirds, research is laying the basis for strategic interventions). In Europe, a review of progress in implementing Species Action Plans showed that, five years after publication, about half of the high priority actions had yet to be undertaken (In Europe, many essential nationally based actions have been undertaken but many more need to be addressed).