We don't hear too much positive environmental news about the Bush administration, so I was very happy to read last week about the swap deal with Costa Rica.
Marc Lacey reported on the New York Times that "The United States has agreed to forgive $26 million of Costa Rica’s debt as part a debt-for-nature swap that will protect some of the country’s most threatened tropical forests." The deal was brokered by the Nature Conservancy.
The debt for nature swap is an innovative mechanism to sustain long-term conservation efforts in developing countries. It is an agreement between a developing country in debt and one or more of its creditors, where the creditors agree to forgive debts in return for the promise of environmental protection, usually protection of large areas of land such as tropical rainforests. This deal not the first debt for nature swap, but it's the biggest one so far.
According to the article, the funds will help protect important Costa Rican natural areas including the Osa Peninsula, Tortuguero, La Amistad, Maquenque, Rincón de la Vieja and the Nicoya Peninsula.
The Bush administration was very clear about the importance it sees in the benefits of the deal to the natural resources of Costa Rica: "“There’s a double benefit for these countries,” Claudia A. McMurray, assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said in a telephone interview. “They get some or all of their debt wiped out, and they get help in preserving an important natural resource.” On top of that, Ms. McMurray said, there are the benefits to climate, as forests play an important role in absorbing greenhouse gasses."
So what's the reason for this unexpected greenness of the administration? I am not sure about the reasons behind the deal, but I assume it got to do with some other parts of the deal - "To qualify for the program Costa Rica had to meet a series of political and economic requirements, including cooperation with Washington on drug enforcement and counterterrorism." I also suspect that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who is well known for his green attitudes, contributed to this deal.
In any case, no matter what the reasons are, this is a positive step and a necessary one - Costa Rica's natural treasures are under increasing pressure from human activity and deforestation stripped the country of almost 80 percent of its forest cover, although environmental groups say replanting efforts have helped reversed the trend.
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