The Global Conservation Fund (GCF), at Conservation International, finances the creation, expansion and long-term management of priority areas for conservation. Made possible by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the GCF has catalyzed more than US$ 200 million for protected area conservation. GCF investments have resulted in the creation and/or expansion of 77 protected areas, resulting in conservation of more than 80 million hectares (197 million acres) around the world. The GCF experience has shown that sustained, long-term investment in protected area operations and management has resulted in a statistically significant decline in ecosystem loss in and around these protected areas and has resulted in improved management effectiveness for several protected areas. In particular, by focusing on long-term financing solutions for protected areas, (such as use of endowment funds), GCF has helped promote the long-term sustainability of key conservation outcomes.
Healthy forests, coral reefs and freshwater ecosystems are the lifeline for billions of people but global efforts to conserve nature for the benefit of humanity are frequently challenged by resource constraints. The conservation process is inherently a long-term endeavor that often requires social change, improvements to civil society, and capacity building, and conservation goals often cannot be fully achieved by short-term grants alone in the typical grant-making cycle of 2-5 years. But these long-term outcomes are rarely matched with long-term funding, and the lack of long-term investment in conservation has historically been a key limitation to the effective management of protected areas and the success of conservation interventions. Conservation Trust Funds and other sustainable financing mechanism, such as those established with the support of the Global Conservation Fund, can therefore be seen as an important solution to the lack of long-term resourcing for the conservation of nature.
This inherent limitation of traditional grant financing has led to the emergence of Conservation Trust Funds (CTFs). At their core, Conservation Trust Funds are long-term financing mechanisms which provide grants to conservation projects. These institutions are structured in a variety of ways, from sinking funds to endowments; and directly invest in protected areas, indigenous- and community-conserved areas, and other conservation programmes. Despite this variability, their goal is generally the same: to provide sustainable financing for the conservation of nature.
GCF invests in projects developed by other international and national NGOs in addition to projects developed or implemented by CI, while also providing technical assistance and leading the design and establishment of CTFs for each protected area project in the portfolio. GCF allocated most long-term financing (LTF) funds to be used as capital for endowments to finance the long-term management of protected areas in GCF's portfolio, but GCF has also allocated LTF funds for strategic land purchases, contributions to debt for nature swaps, and payments for environmental services (PES).
In the course of establishing more than 20 conservation trust funds, as well as several large-scale land purchases and debt-for-nature swaps, GCF has learned much of value about the design, implementation, and long-term success of conservation trust funds. Among them are that long-term financing mechanisms take significant time to establish in order to ensure that protected area management is effective, to secure opportunities for co-funding and other sources of revenue, and to obtain buy-in from relevant stakeholder groups. GCF has learned that this process can be accelerated by conducting comprehensive business planning exercises in the project planning phase, which includes analysis of core management costs and potential sources of protected area revenue. Additional lessons learned on governance, investment management, operations and monitoring have been incorporated into documents such as the CFA Practice Standards for Conservation Trust Funds and publications such as a forthcoming paper in the IUCN journal Parks.
GCF funding has helped create or expand more than 80 million hectares of vital terrestrial and marine ecosystems, an area twice the size of Germany. The fund has played a key role in creating 20 endowments for protected areas that, collectively, total $135 million, most of which was leveraged from co-funders. These endowments support more than 50 million hectares (124 million acres) of critical ecosystems and the people who depend on them, while also storing vast amounts of carbon and protecting important sources of fresh water. GCF-supported projects have also created nearly 2,000 jobs, while helping to conserve habitat for more than 500 globally threatened species.