The money that countries spend to manage and maintain protected areas should not be considered an “expenditure” but an “investment.” This is not only a semantical issue, but also a conceptual and theoretical one. In general, countries, citizens, press, and ministers of finance praise the investment, but not the expenditure. For instance, in the case of the guards that work for these areas, should those salaries be considered as a general expenditure, or as an investment? If we do not pay for the guards, can we keep a protected area safe? The investment proposal makes more sense when stakeholders understand all the services that protected areas provide to a country and its people, such as water, fisheries, energy, nature protection, forestry and tourism. All of the biodiversity maintained by protected areas, add value to economic development. If we do not maintain protected areas, we will loose these values. Therefore, the money that countries put in protected areas must be considered an investment. This change in mindset should be emphasized in international instances where decisions on how to classify this type of money are considered.
We are still dealing with the devastating effects of the economic crisis, including unemployment, slow rates of economic growth, international trade, financial systems, poverty and income distribution. Due to these challenges, many countries are facing great limitations in the use of their public finances. Resource allocations for biodiversity are limited, especially for activities that are not considered relevant to alleviating development challenges. For this reason, is urgent to demonstrate the economic value that protected areas represent to decision makers. The cost benefits of investing money in land protection, and the positive effects of protected areas on growth and development, must also be demonstrated. At the moment people understand that biodiversity is not a matter only of environmentalists, but something that very well managed do impact the national function of production, the approach must change, and the resources must come to the sector.
The solution proposed to calculate the economic value of the protected areas, to measure their connection with the economic growth, to estimate the cost benefit of these investments, and to explain the cost effectiveness of this approach. Historical data should also be presented, and evaluations procedures must be put into place. Protected areas, as well as biodiversity in general, must be incorporated in the National Development Plans.
The United Nations Development Program's BioFin project is promoting a very important approach. BIOFIN provided the Costa Rica team with an extraordinary tool to undertake planning for biodiversity and development, including the incorporation of environmental values into national social and economic development plans. The environment should not be seen as a “side black box” apart from the development of the country. It should be integrated. Biofin may help countries to start working in that direction.