Good lessons have been learnt, now they must be applied
What is the focus of your work?Throughout my career I have been working on the crossroads of two main axes: fragile ecosystems and vulnerable populations. I focused on ecosystems that cannot withstand any more anthropogenic pressures, causing a decay in the service provision capacity and therefore impacting both human life and habitats of other species. Social exclusion and environmental decay go hand in hand. Not because one causes the other, but because they are highly correlated. In a system of constant interaction and constant inter-influence, these two axes are very much the two sides of the same coin.
What was your involvement in the Danube PES projects of WWF?Payments for Environmental Services (PES) is basically a finance mechanism, one among many. The idea of this project was to know how feasible it was under these circumstances to apply this finance mechanism. As I have been involved in promoting PES pilots all over the globe, my involvement was to bring that experience into this project and to see when and if this was feasible, or not, throughout this area.
My main task was to assess the type of projects that will be presented, to look into them and to find out if these can actually deliver a PES product. Indeed, as PES is a finance mechanism among many, you can choose other mechanisms. One of my messages was: don't feel forced like in a straight jacket to fit under the label of PES. In fact that has been a recurrent challenge in these projects. The partners were kind of afraid of moving away from the label, and organizing activities around the label than rather around the reality behind the label. So, in this framework, my task was, to some extent, to attend, to read, to evaluate, to recommend and to provide alternatives.
What do you think about the results achieved so far by the project?There are now established foundations with very good potential, even if it varies according to the pilots’ various locations. In my opinion, the Persina project is the one with the richest potential. This pilot can really go far. It is ready to be scaled up, along the Danube. My recommendation to the team will be to concentrate on this pilot, to make sure that they will put more financing into this project and bring the public sector along. At the same time, it could be interesting to start to look for other areas to replicate, to disseminate this experience. A very strong and aggressive communication could be done so that this pilot can be the best presentation card for the rest of the Danube basin. It could show that this approach can work, that development and conservation can go hand in hand, and that the public and the private partnership can really deliver this type of results.
The other pilots have one major common element. They are all in protected areas (PAs). In those territories, PES have to deal with the existing policy and politics. Most PES programmes in the rest of the world, mostly in Latin America, avoid getting into PAs, precisely because of the legislations and the limitations. But in this case, it seems that they have chosen to work within PAs. So they have encountered many limitations to actually implement payments for environmental services.
So, the future is there. The foundations have been established. There are good prospects. Good lessons have been learned. Now they must be applied.
Interview by Milan Jousten