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5 Ways Better Governance Can Help Fix the Nature Crisis

July 6, 2022

Around half the value of the world’s economy—$44 trillion USD—is dependent on the natural world. From free pollination in food systems to the minerals and materials used in construction, to climate change regulation through carbon storage and air and water filtration services, nature provides benefits for people and economies. However, the consistent undervaluation of nature and its benefits has led to us globally “spending” natural stocks much faster than they are being replenished. Subsidies which support activities that deplete natural resources, along with investments in business processes that encourage the destruction of valuable ecosystems, have degraded 20 percent to 40 percent of the land and put 1 million plant and animal species under threat of extinction.

At the multilateral level, countries are setting targets to protect nature. The upcoming UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) summit is expected to deliver a goal to protect 30 percent of all land and oceans by 2030, an aspiration which dovetails nicely with the recent Glasgow climate summit pledge to halt deforestation by 2030. But meeting these targets will be challenging because biodiversity-rich areas also house a quarter of the world’s population—raising critical human rights and governance challenges.

When it comes to successful natural resource management, the challenges are often structural. There are formal and informal norms, systems, and incentives that discourage individuals and entities from internalizing the true value of costs and benefits from their actions. Abt’s vision for addressing the biodiversity crisis at landscape scale is rooted in experiences gained from designing and managing successful governance and service delivery programmes across the world. Among these are:

1. Thinking and working politically. Aligning with national decision-making processes and strengthening government systems is crucial to long term success and sustainability. That is, conservation efforts should avoid operating around politics, and instead work with politics. For example, Abt is jointly working with the government of Indonesia to strengthen locally elected governments to improve the quality and efficiency of public services. More than 650 local government representatives from 215 districts have attended workshops and focus group discussions, bringing ministry officials together with district and village leaders to discuss policy planning. This helps to strengthen Indonesian political institutions, and create a citizenry well-equipped to engage with the state and ensure it responds to their needs.

2. Local, place-based approaches, which support civic engagement and inclusive approaches to design, test, and adapt solutions, are more likely to be sustained and taken to scale. In Papua New Guinea (PNG), Abt is applying a multi-stakeholder approach to help the government turn PNG’s natural resource wealth into broad-based inclusive growth. We have set up a collaborative design process, which brings together the PNG Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the PNG Resource Governance Coalition, the Chamber of Mines and Petroleum, and representatives of provincial and local governments, landowner associations, women-and-disability-led stakeholder groups, and impacted communities in resource-rich provinces. We have also established a new partnership with the G7 CONNEX Initiative that works with partner governments to negotiate on an equal footing with international investors. Through this design process, Abt is helping stakeholders negotiate and agree to initiatives that support foreign direct investment conditions and the sustainable and inclusive development of the resource sector.

3. Coordinated and transparent processes across boundaries are essential to minimize leakage from detrimental activities within a landscape.  Abt laid a foundation for addressing the challenges around boundary setting in rural Indonesia, solidifying land boundaries, resolving disputes, and helping remove major impediments to investment due to lack of information. Community coordination paired with a new information management system resulted in eight district governments and over 150 villages now being able to plan more sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, and developers can invest in rural renewable energy systems for reliable electricity, improving lives, livelihoods, and service delivery.

4. The need to create bankable solutions to ensure long term outcomes beyond a programme’s completion. Government funding is always limited, so designing regulatory, fiscal, and financial mechanisms to encourage private finance are needed for sustained impact. Abt supported public-private partnerships in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Uganda, and Egypt, to help smallholder farmers transition from traditional, low-value agriculture to high-value crops and methods to meet international environmental and traceability standards. In doing so, the project created thousands of sustainable jobs in agri-businesses, delivered increased incomes to smallholder farmers, and leveraged private finance to the horticulture sector.

5. Finding the plausible opportunities for positive change. Projects should not underestimate the importance of finding the feasible entry points for change that will account for the context-specific political economy while still making a meaningful difference towards protecting the environment and improving people’s livelihoods. Through USAID’s Climate Economic Analysis for Development, Investment, and Resilience (CEADIR), Abt supported 33 governments across the world to build the business and economic case for investing in climate change mitigation and adaptation, and worked with the private sector to ensure the financial deliverability of the appraisal’s outcome.

For nature solutions to work at the required scale, we first must address the drivers underpinning the governance and market failures. Otherwise, interventions will continue to preserve misaligned incentives that result in rent-seeking, and inequitable and unsustainable outcomes. Abt Global’s systemic and integrated approach preserving biodiversity leverages opportunities for communities at the forefront of the biodiversity challenge, thus delivering long-lasting results for the economy, the climate, and the planet. Reach out to hear about our capabilities and to collaborate with us in future projects to create impactful solutions to the nature crisis.

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