23 Nov 2018

BirdLife South Africa’s Candice Stevens wins global Pathfinder award

BirdLife South Africa’s Policy and Advocacy Programme Manager Candice Stevens, together with the government of South Africa (represented by the Department of Environmental Affairs), have won this year’s Pathfinder Special Commendation award for their joint innovative work on biodiversity tax incentives in South Africa.

Candice Stevens © BirdLife South Africa
Candice Stevens © BirdLife South Africa
By Jude Fuhnwi

The Pathfinder Award recognizes exceptional and innovative solutions for protected and conserved areas, developed and implemented by individuals, organisations or groups. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), and the WildArk- a Movement for the Wild are among the organizations that presented the inaugural award to recipients on Sunday 18 November, at a ceremony in Egypt during the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 14).

Over 200 nominations were submitted from across the world for the inaugural event, and Ms Stevens’ collaborative work with the South African government won in the Pathfinder Special Commendation award category.

“I am very honoured to receive this and would like to acknowledge all the colleagues and stakeholders who have supported and engaged in this work with me, without whom the introduction of South Africa’s first biodiversity tax incentive would not have been possible,” said Candice Stevens.

Candice Stevens with a representative of the Department of Environmental Affairs at Egypt's COP 14 © BirdLife South Africa

The award winners were determined through a rigorous selection process involving experts on protected area financing and a high level panel of international judges.

Assessors noted that the collaborative work by BirdLife South Africa’s Fiscal Benefits project and the government of South Africa was “achieving the specific application of a tax break for establishing privately protected areas [and] is globally innovative. No other country has a similar solution in place and it is a tremendous achievement”.

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BirdLife South Africa’s Fiscal Benefits project was launched in 2015 by Candice Stevens, a tax expert with specialist skills in incentives, biodiversity finance, and protected area policy. The Project successfully tested biodiversity tax incentives as a benefit for landowners and communities who have declared protected areas through the national biodiversity stewardship initiative. This all began with the achievement of introducing a new tax incentive, section 37D, into the Income Tax Act. Section 37D provides a tax break for conservation commitment. It allows the total value of a Nature Reserve or National Park to be deducted from the taxable income of a landowner or community, reducing the tax burden, increasing sustainable finance for long-term environmental management, and bolstering economic activities synonymous with South Africa’s Biodiversity Economy.

This unique protected area finance solution is listed as one of South Africa’s official BIOFIN Solutions and is estimated to contribute approximately over R1 billion to South Africa’s biodiversity conservation efforts by 2026.

The success of this initiative and its global recognition through the Pathfinder Award was made possible with the assistance of strategic partners and stakeholders across South Africa. The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through the Global Environment Facility (GEF 5) Biodiversity and Land Use Project, partners with BirdLife South Africa and provides funding to mainstream these successes. Vital institutional support is received from the Department of Environmental Affairs and the UNDP’s BIOFIN Initiative, as well as the National Treasury and the South African Revenue Service. Catalytic seed funding was received from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust which provided the launch pad for what is now a global solution for the planet.

Candice Stevens also works closely with the biodiversity stewardship community of practice in South Africa and the efforts of individuals and organisations, working tirelessly to safeguard South Africa’s incredible natural heritage, are part and parcel of this award. Special thanks go to the donors, institutional supporters, and colleagues who have provided continued support and input into ensuring the success of this finance innovation. BirdLife South Africa is proud to be at the cutting edge of globally innovative conservation work.

BirdLife South Africa’s Fiscal Benefits Project is a novel approach to biodiversity finance and leads the way in the global use of biodiversity tax incentives. The Project is funded by the GEF in partnership with SANBI.