Payments for Ecosystem Services

Funding sustainability at the grassroots level: 20 years of PES experience in Costa Rica

A healthier ecosystem will benefit all of society; rich and poor, directly and indirectly. But the social and environmental objectives of the scheme must be targeted accurately. A system of Payments for Ecosystems Services is one option, albeit one that is fairly controversial: though it does provide strong incentive for sustainable practices, it also means monetizing natural features and linking the environment to an often unstable economy. Costa Rica is the best established laboratory for PES – where it has survived five different administrations and currently has around 16,000 beneficiaries involved directly in the package.

Authors: Ina Porras, David N Barton, Miriam Miranda, Adriana Chacón-Cascante. Source: International Institute for Environment and Development

Costa Rica’s Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES) programme has become something of an icon in the world of PES. Its hitches and successes provide a valuable source of information and inspiration for other countries interested in exploring ‘policymixes’ of economic and regulatory instruments to promote ecosystems conservation and regeneration.

(Click to enlarge) Changes in forest cover in Costa Rica

(Click to enlarge) Changes in forest cover in Costa Rica

In this paper we explore how the governance of the PES programme has evolved over time, how the context in which it sits has changed, and how it prepares to face future challenges by incorporating new tools and strengthening its alliances with other institutions. We discuss the policies used by the programme to affect the way forests are managed and the reported outcomes on the ecosystem services they are expected to provide. Since PES is for society as much as the environment, we also look in detail at the impacts on those directly receiving PES, and what policies and personal characteristics may affect how PES funding seeps into rural economies.

The success of the PES scheme in Costa Rica ultimately depends on its ability to guarantee the provision and protection of ecosystem services. This requires a greater application of technical and scientific knowledge, while balancing on the tightrope of a limited budget.

Also published in Spanish, this paper is aimed at local practitioners, international researchers and donors interested in the Costa Rican experience and the lessons that emerge from it.

Download the full paper here.

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