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Costa Rica, US announce historic debt-for-nature swap

Arlington, Virginia (Oct. 17, 2007) The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International (CI) have joined the governments of the United States and Costa Rica in one of the largest debt-for-nature swaps in history.

The agreement will ensure the protection of Costa Ricas most critically threatened tropical forests, with the United States forgiving $26 million of Costa Ricas debt and Costa Rica spending that amount on tropical forest conservation programs over the next 16 years.

The U.S. government contributed $12.6 million appropriated by the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), with Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy providing an additional $1.26 million each to the purchase of the debt at a discounted rate. Two law firms White & Case, and Pacheco, Odio & Alfaro represented the Conservancy and CI in the transaction on a pro bono basis.

For more than 30 years, weve been working in Costa Rica, which has always been at the forefront of Latin American conservation, said Stephanie Meeks, acting president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Costa Rica is teeming with natural beauty, biodiversity and threatened species, from jaguars to squirrel monkeys to scarlet macaws. And as an increasingly popular tourist and retirement destination, it faces increasing development pressure. Were glad to have this opportunity to continue working with local people and government and nonprofit partners to protect this magnificent place for generations to come.

Established by the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), debt-for-nature swaps enable the United States to forgive a countrys foreign debt in exchange for the participating governments commitment to devote a specified amount of money to conservation work. The Costa Rica agreement is the largest debt-for-nature swap ever made under the TFCA $26 million.

This is how modern conservation works, with dynamic partnerships involving all stakeholders to protect ecosystems that sustain life on Earth, said Peter Seligmann, the CI chairman and CEO. The Costa Rican tropical forests are home to a rich variety of life and provide the natural resources depended on by people living in and around them. They also are important for slowing global warming because they store atmospheric carbon, one of the greenhouse gases causing climate change.

Cutting and burning tropical forests contributes 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all the worlds cars, trucks, trains and planes combined. Costa Rica has reversed a deforestation trend that saw it lose almost 80 percent of its original forest cover. It now has replanted and reclaimed previously deforested areas, with 52 percent of the country now forested again.

The areas selected for protection under the new debt-for-nature swap represent the top conservation targets in the country, as identified by a new scientific blueprint that addresses gaps in conservation planning.

  • The Osa Peninsula faces severe threats of illegal logging, poaching, and over-development. The rainforest meets the sea on the Osa, which is home to the jaguar, squirrel monkey, scarlet macaw and over 370 bird species.

  • Totuguero lies near the Caribbean Sea and consists of rich expanses of forests that are all part of a vulnerable ecosystem. It provides a safe refuge for jaguars, green macaws and several species of turtle that must be safeguarded in order to maintain the size and state of this fragile habitat.

  • La Amistad contains the largest untouched tract of rainforest in Costa Rica and is also home to most of the countrys local indigenous communities. Its people are working with the Conservancy and CI to pursue sustainable livelihoods.

  • Maquenque in the northern part of the country is rich in wetlands, lagoons, forests and hills and is home to the great green macaw and ocelots.

  • Zona Norte del Rincon de la Vieja is the area north of the Rincn de la Vieja volcano with some of the largest forest cover in Central America.

  • Nicoya Peninsula is a tourist destination in northwest Costa Rica with rich biological corridors that connect protected areas.

The TFCA requires that developing countries with critically important tropical forests meet certain political and economic requirements to be eligible for debt-for-nature swaps. The legislation currently is being reauthorized in Congress, with expectations that its scope will expand to include coral reef protection.

Debt-for-nature swaps also include contributions from private individuals and organizations, along with the U.S. Treasury funds. Once a swap is completed, the participating country makes payments to a Conservation Trust Fund to support local tropical forest conservation activities. Previous agreements have included Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru, and two with Panama.


Contact: Tom Cohen
Conservation International

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