“You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you” – Deuteronomy 15:3

Last week, I promised “More anon about how carbon trading is done and how developing countries may benefit”. Well, I was very encouraged by the responses which I received: “Very interesting article. An important topic which needs much more public ventilation”…”Amen!”…”Most interesting and informative to me an almost totally unscientific layman – I look forward to the continuation”…”Reading your latest column, I must send you the attached link to a press release from the OAS…on the new wave in carbon credits and the related payment for ecosystem services, which proved quite fruitful in terms of information shared”.

This last comment distracted me and the accompanying information from a friend Ian Edwards, OAS Information Specialist, whom I last met in Barbados a week ago, is very timely and I can do no better than to quote from this paper to continue the dialogue on the carbon credit economy. Indeed this paper introduces the wider concept of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES).

The paper referenced entitled “Payments for Ecological Services could benefit Haiti” by Prof Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, was delivered on November 7, 2007. Even though the reference is to Haiti to stop further land degradation and boost forestation efforts, the philosophical underpinning of PES can be extrapolated to any developing country.

“Payments for ecological services can help by compensating people in the upper reaches of drainage basins to refrain from land uses that exacerbate flooding, periodic water shortages, and water quality problems,” Ambassador Ramdin explained, telling the experts at their seminar entitled “From Mandates to Actions: Advancing Payments for Ecological Services in the Americas,” that a PES initiative in Haiti would also go a long way in mitigating the impact of natural disasters while alleviating poverty.

The objective of the seminar was to inform Member States about activities in payments for ecological services around the hemisphere. It was also intended to further develop on the theory behind payments for ecosystem services, and to explain how PES approaches have been solving real-life problems.

“Member countries have recognized the urgency of addressing the existing and mounting threats of water scarcity, deforestation, and climate change, and of ensuring that efforts among organizations and agencies within the Inter-American system work in tandem to provide tangible deliverables to member countries,” Ramdin declared. He called on countries, however, to do more to further develop strategic and cross-cutting policies and measures on sustainable development and preservation of the environment. He said more commitment and effort are also needed for properly funded and equipped institutional mechanisms to implement the policies, and for stronger enforcement of established legislation and policy.

Scott Vaughan, Director of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, moderated the seminar, remarking that “there has been a remarkable increase around the theme of payment for ecosystems services, in addition to a number of national programs related to biodiversity conservation, forestry conservation, and upper watershed management at the national level.”

The International Monetary Fund’s Alvaro Umaña spoke about the Costa Rica experience with PES; Josefina Braña, formerly of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology, shared the Mexico experience; Michael Jenkins and Ricardo Bayon, of the Tropical America Katoomba Group, spoke about environmental markets and the ecosystem marketplace; Gonzalo Castro, of Sustainable Forestry Management, spoke about private carbon markets; The World Bank’s Stefano Pagiola shared his institution’s experience with PES; while the OAS’ Adriana Casas spoke about the legal-institutional and policy frameworks that support PES.

Richard Huber, Chief of the Biodiversity and Land Management Division of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, focused on PES trends in the Americas. He also explained PES systems in terms of benefits that people obtain from ecological systems in relation to provisioning systems such as food and water; regulating services such as pertains to floods, drought and diseases; supporting services such as soil formation; and cultural services such as recreation and spiritual values.

Payment of ecosystem services has mobilized new financing for developing countries to help address poverty and environmental degradation. According to OAS data, compliance regulatory carbon markets have grown from US$11 billion in 2005 to US$24 billion in 2006 and to US$30 billion so far in 2007.

Since the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States in Barbados in 1994, initially through the Future Centre Trust – the brain child of the late Dr. Colin Hudson supported by the then Governor General, the late Dame Nita Barrow – and more recently through Counterpart Caribbean at the Future Centre, we have been attempting to make the public aware of the importance of Sustainable Development, particularly to the small islands and coastal communities in the Caribbean. We need as much support as we can get from the public and private sectors to get the message across that the future of our children and grandchildren is dependent on what we do to today to protect our spiritual, physical, economic, social and cultural environment.

I have indulged in a PES interlude this week but shall return to the specifics of carbon credit trading next week and explore the concept of “You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you”.