UNDP and the Government of Seychelles are implementing an ambitious conservation programme in Seychelles, funded primarily by the GEF with help from other partners. Two projects of a very specific nature stand out. A new UNDP-GEF protected area finance project aims to improve the financial sustainability and strategic cohesion of Seychelles’ protected area system, while also dealing with emerging threats and risks to biodiversity in a shifting national economic environment. Related to it, but with different focus, is the global multi-donor Biodiversity Finance Initiative, or BIOFIN, in which Seychelles is a participating country. BIOFIN aims at developing methodologies for quantifying the biodiversity finance gap at national level, and for reducing the cost of biodiversity management through an effective mainstreaming of biodiversity into national development and sectoral planning. BIOFIN in Seychelles will also go the extra mile and undertake a broad level Public Expenditure Review related to conservation, assessing perverse incentives and financing needs for all the Aichi Targets, as they relate to Seychelles’ National Biodiversity and Action Plan (the NBSAP), which is currently being revised. Seychelles is truly ‘opening the books’ and making the case for both for protected areas and for conservation more broadly.
In 2011, the Government of Seychelles announced its intent to gazette seven new areas in the Outer Islands. The gazetting of three new areas in the inner islands is underway, two of which are privately owned. In addition, the only privately owned island group in the outer islands, D’Arros & St Joseph, gained protected area status in April 2014. Additionally, there is intent to gazette up to 30% (400,000 sq km) of the marine area as protected areas, 10-15% of which would be no-take zones, mostly in near-shore areas. This major expansion is to be financed at least in part through a Debt-for-Adaptation Swap agreement. The expansion of the PA system creates the potential for improved protection of Seychelles’ terrestrial and marine biodiversity, but the financial implications of the expansion and the needs for sustainable management of the existing and expanded system are problematic, even with Debt Swap funding. Another problem has been how to ensure that an exercise such as BIOFIN does not end up being restricted to the conservation community, but also really speaks the language of finance and is able to convince institutions such as the Ministry of Finance of the need to reshape investments, review subsidy policies and address the financing gap for conservation.
- One System, Various Sub-Systems: Analysis for the protected area project focuses on flows in and out of three protected area sub-systems, as well as current trends and prospects. Together, these three sub-systems represent approximately 80% of the country’s protected surface and channel through them a comparable portion of all financial flows. Dividing the system into discernible and meaningful sub-systems has proven very useful. The criteria used for aggregating them was protected area governance, their coverage and management effectiveness patterns. The “SNPA Sub-system,” managed by Seychelles National Parks Authority, includes the large terrestrial park Morne Seychellois on Mahé Island and a significant number of small state-owned sites that require intense management. Work here will focus on bridging the gap between the high revenue-generation potential and the current low management effectiveness of the sub-system. The work will focus on balancing these to close the gap. The second sub-system is the SIF one and it includes two World Heritage Sites managed by the special parastatal trust Seychelles Island Foundation. These are the world-class Aldabra Special Reserve, remote but crucial for conservation, and the second the widely visited Vallé de Mai National Park on Praslin Island, whose own revenue stream, from entrance fees and souvenir sales, has not just covered its own management costs, but also cross-subsidised Aldabra’s operations. The question for the SIF sub-system is how to maintain a reliable source of funds for this second sub-system, noting that it displays high levels of management effectiveness. The third sub-system, called “IDC-ICD”, consists of the new and existing sites jointly managed by the State-owned Island Development Corporation and the national NGO, Island Conservation Society. These sites will soon represent more than half of the protected surface of Seychelles. The question here is how to manage the impacts of current and future development in the largely pristine outer island region of the country, and how to adequately channel funds for conservation and management effectiveness in remote conditions.
- Penetrating the World of Finance: Under BIOFIN, the greatest challenge has been to effectively make the case, either for or against identified policies that would require change for achieving conservation objectives. Implementing some of the recommended actions emanating from the BIOFIN exercise can potentially displace certain interests and touch upon financial stakes of specific groups. The dialogue between the conservation and finance communities is not always straightforward. These are very different worlds and the members of these communities operate with very different frames of mind. For example, if the decision is made to explore the recently discovered off-shore oil reserves in spite of known risks and likely environmental impacts, this could change the face of the economy, but also the outcome for Seychelles’ biodiversity. In this case, BIOFIN is providing decision makers with the solid figures and trade-off analysis to make a more informed decisions on the stakes for both biodiversity and the economy. The greatest successes have come with mutually beneficial outcomes for various stakeholders and for conservation, such as when BIOFIN identified the need to revamp the revenue structure that pertains to protected areas with respect to the SNPA sub-system and recommended that they retain it and use for conservation. This is was a situation where everyone wins.
- The key take-home lesson is that sound analysis underpins sound decision-making. Seychelles has much to share in this arena.
- Partnerships and project ownership are vitally important considerations. The Debt for Adaptation Swap initiative has been facilitated by The Nature Conservancy and it relates to several other initiatives including BIOFIN and various GEF-financed projects. Yet, the ownership and final authority of decisions and outcomes remains with the government.
- Conservation finance and protected area finance work is often about making small improvements, and maximizing the positive impact of these improvements for enhancing the effectiveness of conservation action.
- In order to make the case for conservation and protected areas, a broad framework of analysis has been developed. Seychelles learned extensively from it.
- BIOFIN: An entirely new methodological framework has been developed at the global level and piloted for undertaking national-level “bottom-up” analyses of the finance-relevant enabling context. It starts with determining the baseline investment in biodiversity. This is followed by a widely consultative exercise for quantifying the full cost of meeting national biodiversity conservation targets and the resulting finance gap. Actions foreseen in the NBSAP are the key benchmark for BIOFIN. Finally, the suitability of financial mechanisms is assessed and national resource mobilisation strategies are developed.
- Protected area finance project: Development of a comprehensive protected area finance plan to direct the long-term sustainable financing of the PA system, which contributes to the overall national conservation agenda. Useful elements include revenue streams and initiative related to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
- Expected outcomes: Improved sustainability of PA system financing, and a more balanced approach to the Blue Economy, with successfully negotiated trade-offs between conservation and development.