Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How Payments for Environmental Services can deliver co-benefits for business & sustainable development…

This site was created to review issues related to my career and graduate coursework, so this is a good time for a status update. In December, I completed a capstone on Payments for Environmental Services, which was the last requirement for my master’s from the Sustainability and Environmental Management Program at Harvard.

The abstract for my capstone, “How Payments for Environmental Services Can Deliver Co-Benefits for Business and Sustainable Development: A Conservation Finance Strategy to Protect Armenia’s Natural Heritage,” was recently accepted for the 17th International Sustainable Development Research Conference. The conference is hosted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the United Nations Division of Sustainable Development.

The peer review committee invited me to present the research in the session on “Redefining Economic Systems for Sustainable Development.” The following is a condensed version of the research abstract:

“The Caucasus region has been identified by international conservation organizations as a ‘global hotspot’ for biodiversity. Among the nations of the South Caucasus, the environment of the Republic of Armenia faces widespread degradation driven by factors including unsustainable management, lack of alternative energy supplies, and a shortage of sustainable financing for conservation. In order to address similar challenges, some countries have implemented Payment for Environmental Services (PES) programs to compensate upstream landowners or land managers for environmental conservation that benefits downstream users. This research presented three examples of PES programs. The programs in Costa Rica and in upstate New York demonstrated that PES can deliver significant levels of conservation finance and can achieve favorable sustainable development results. The ongoing example in the Danube Basin shows that PES can be implemented as a pilot program to demonstrate the applicability of the concept and transfer lessons learned to neighboring regions.”

“Based on these results, this paper argues that PES may be an effective conservation finance strategy to apply in the Republic of Armenia. This is especially compelling since there are several sectors that have been identified as strategically important for the country’s economic development that rely heavily on environmental services as a core part of their business. These include hydropower, the beverage industry, and the tourist industry. This paper has shown that these sectors have a direct interest in environmental conservation and that investing in natural capital would ensure their long-term viability and profitability. In addition to addressing business risk in these strategic industries in a proactive manner that lowers costs, a PES program can deliver sustainable development co-benefits and enhance a Corporate Social Responsibility program.”

This research was motivated by the work of a number of organizations including the following, each of which provided support or resources cited in this study:

One of the next steps is to advance the business case for a PES program using WRI’s Corporate Ecosystem Services Review. This tool enables corporate managers to develop proactive strategies to manage business risks and opportunities arising from environmental impacts and dependence on environmental services. I hope readers will stay tuned as this research advances to the next stage toward implementation.