1. Main findings and conclusions

This chapter summarises the report’s main findings and conclusions. It begins with an overview of the main status, trends and pressures on biodiversity and ecosystems in the reviewed Latin American countries, followed by a discussion on the institutional and policy frameworks, financing, and mechanisms to mainstream biodiversity into sectoral policies. For each section, the chapter highlights some good practices and innovative solutions implemented in the countries.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

1.1. Introduction

Biodiversity and ecosystem services underpin human well-being and play a critical role in the economy. The OECD has reviewed policies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in more than a dozen countries in the framework of its Environmental Performance Reviews (EPRs) since 2010.1 While pressures on ecosystems and biodiversity are diverse, the policy recommendations that emerged from the reviews may provide useful lessons for other OECD and partner countries.

This paper provides a cross-country review of policies for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in Latin America, based on the EPRs of five countries in the region:

  • Mexico (2013)

  • Chile (2016)

  • Colombia (2014)

  • Peru (2017)

  • Brazil (2015)

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Focusing on Latin America is particularly pertinent given the great wealth of biodiversity in the region and the growing pressures on its conservation and sustainable use. This paper describes common trends, challenges and key achievements in the five examined countries. Where appropriate, it also brings in evidence from other Latin American countries. As the paper draws on EPRs published over the past five years, information for some countries may be more recent than for others.

1.2. Status, trends and pressure on biodiversity

Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the most important regions of the world in terms of biodiversity and ecosystems, holding an estimated 40% of the world’s biological diversity. Six of the 17 “megadiverse countries” are within Latin America and the region hosts 11 of the 14 terrestrial biomes, about half of global forests, and the second largest reef system in the world. However, high economic and population growth are driving land-use change, creating pollution and increasing resource demand.

Forest loss remains one of the greatest pressures on biodiversity and ecosystems in Latin America. The rates of annual forest loss have generally declined over the past years, but they remain among the highest in the world. Brazil in particular significantly slowed its deforestation rate while some countries expanded their forest area (Figure 1.1). Water resources are abundant, but many arid and semi-arid regions are facing increasing water scarcity as a result of growing water demand and reduced water availability due to climate change. Latin American countries have high proportions of endemic species (that are found nowhere else in the world), but they also have some of the highest numbers of threatened species in the world. Biodiversity “hotspots”, which combine high degrees of endemism and biodiversity loss, extend across many countries in the region.

Land clearing for agriculture is the largest cause for forest loss; and is often exacerbated by unclear or lack of land tenure. Illegal activities such as mining, traffic of species, timber harvesting and illicit crops are a particular problem in the region (e.g. in Colombia and Peru). Agriculture is another significant threat to biodiversity, as a result of overgrazing, pesticide and fertiliser use, and high water use. Mining and energy extraction and infrastructure are also important drivers of biodiversity loss, due the land-use change, high groundwater extraction, soil and water contamination and the hazardous waste generation they often involve. The impacts of these pressures are not always well-assessed and mitigated. Invasive species are of particular concern: some 54 of the world’s 100 worst invasive species are present in the region. Marine and coastal ecosystems are threatened by expanding coastal development, overfishing, bycatch, pollution, untreated waste, unsustainable tourism and invasive species, while inland water systems are challenged by pollution and excessive water use. Latin American countries mainly rank below the global average in the 2017 Ocean Health Index assessment.

Figure 1.1. Forest loss and the number of threatened species are high

Source: FAO (2015), Global Forest Resource Assessment 2015, www.fao.org/forest-resources-assessment/en/; IUCN (2018), IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, www.iucnredlist.org/.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933885980

1.3. Governance and policy framework

All five of the countries examined have improved their institutional frameworks and governance systems for biodiversity, with environment ministries leading biodiversity policy development and dedicated agencies implementing and managing protected areas in four of the five countries. Colombia and Peru have advanced efforts to decentralise environmental responsibilities to sub-national and local authorities. However, their experience has shown that the best results are achieved only when these authorities have sufficient human and financial resources to fulfil their responsibilities, which is not always the case at present. Better co-ordination and targeted support to regions and municipalities most in need of strengthening in their technical and financing capacities would support progress across sub-national jurisdictions.

There is a greater prevalence of consultations, public hearings, and inclusion of stakeholders in environmental management councils, as well as more environmental courts and tribunals to address cases of environmental conflict. A lot of work also remains to rebuild trust with communities regarding their involvement in decision-making processes, in order to reduce environmental conflict.

International agreements, notably the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), are helping to drive further domestic action, leading countries to update and revise their national biodiversity strategies to incorporate the 2011-20 Aichi Targets under the CBD. Much progress has been made in developing legislation, goals and targets for biodiversity conservation, although implementation continues to be a challenge as a result of a lack of resources, capacity, co-ordination and political leadership. Recent strategies tend to put emphasis on enabling factors, such as knowledge creation, capacity building and awareness rising. Ecosystem restoration and connectivity, establishment of priority conservation regions, synergies amongst biodiversity-related conventions and biodiversity mainstreaming with sectoral policies is also gaining in importance. Interest in the sustainable use of biodiversity, including biotechnology from generic resources, is increasing.

Several countries have embraced the 2014 Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, although most still lack legal or regulatory frameworks to govern the access to genetic resources and ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. Cross-country collaboration has borne fruit and could be further pursued to pool and leverage knowledge, resources and capacity. Regional initiatives, such as the Latin American Initiative for Sustainable Development, are facilitating improved information sharing, policy co-ordination and harmonisation. Additionally, many Latin American countries have bilateral or multilateral co-operation agreements that address shared ecosystems or provide financing and capacity building for biodiversity conservation efforts.

Mexico has a National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), with representation from ten ministries as well as consultative bodies to facilitate public participation in biodiversity matters. Brazil shifted from a “fence-and-protect” approach to one that favours the sustainable use of biological resources and recognises the role of rural, traditional and indigenous communities in preserving ecosystems. Colombia has integrated biodiversity into its National Development Plan and released the National Policy for the Integral Management of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (PNGIBSE) in 2012.

1.4. Knowledge base and evaluation

The lack of knowledge and data remain a key challenge, particularly concerning marine and freshwater ecosystems despite improvement in the breadth and depth of environmental indicators over the past decade. Knowledge and data on the status of ecosystems and species, monitoring and reporting of trends, and insight into the economic and social value of biodiversity are essential for building awareness, establishing priorities for action and effectively designing and implementing biodiversity policy. There are, however, some positive examples that could be usefully replicated in other countries.

Mexico has a highly developed biodiversity information system and has conducted several economic valuation studies related to biodiversity and ecosystem services. Brazil has world-leading satellite-based deforestation monitoring systems, which have been crucial to reducing forest clearing in the Amazon. Colombia has conducted an independent assessment of its marine ecosystems using the international Ocean Health Index. It also participates in the World Bank Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) initiative, developing natural capital accounting for its water, forests and land.

1.5. Policy instruments

Protected areas are the predominant policy instrument used for biodiversity conservation in Latin America. Terrestrial protection covered 28% of Central America and 25% of South America in 2014, the largest shares in the world and far surpassing the area protected in OECD countries (15%) as well as the international target of 17% under the CBD. However, quality is just as important as quantity, and it is here where the five EPR countries could improve in ensuring that all biomes and ecosystems are represented and adequately resourced to be managed effectively. Marine protection is much lower than terrestrial protection (2% and 4% of total marine areas in Central and South America respectively) and needs to be expanded. The private sector can help expand and finance protected areas, for example through public-private partnerships in areas with high tourism potential, or through incentives encouraging environmental investment and philanthropy, for example in the form of financial and land donations.

Figure 1.2. Protected areas are the predominant policy instrument used for biodiversity conservation

Note: Data for Chile include the largest marine reserve in the Americas (Nazca-Desventuradas). Data for Brazil include two large mosaics of marine protected areas designated in March 2018 (Archipelago of Trindade and Martim Vaz and Monte Columbia and Archipelago of São Pedro and São Paulo).

Source: UNEP-WCMC and IUCN (2018), The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), www.protectedplanet.net.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933885999

The usage of economic instruments for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use is growing in Latin America. The region is a leader in payments for ecosystem services (PES). There are several large-scale programmes, some of which have interesting features, focussing for example on areas with high biodiversity benefits, high risk of loss, low opportunity cost, or low social development. Several countries introduced national legislation to facilitate the use of PES, yet there is a general lack of monitoring frameworks that would allow for evaluating the effectiveness of programmes.

Offsets, water charges, water markets, forestry fees and tradable fishing and forestry quotas could be further extended. Environmentally harmful subsidies are impeding progress, such as tax exemptions for fertilisers and pesticides and subsidies for irrigation infrastructure and small-scale mining. Phasing these out would have the double benefit of stopping the promotion of practices harmful to biodiversity and increasing public finances.

Voluntary and information-based instruments are increasingly being used as tools that integrate economic and environmental objectives, and have the potential to be used more widely. The number of environmental certifications and labels is growing, in part because of growing global demand for more sustainable products. Green public procurement initiatives, such as Brazil’s programme targeting biodiversity-related products and Mexico’s incorporation of certified forest products into its green procurement criteria, are encouraging growth of sectors that use resources sustainably. The “Soya Moratorium”, involving a group of large companies that stopped buying soya grown on deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon, showed that private sector agreements can have significant positive impacts.

Peru has signed at least ten administration contracts with non-government institutions to implement management plans in protected areas. Mexico runs one of the world’s largest payment for ecosystem services (PES) programmes and Brazil has combined its PES programmes with social objectives, providing payments to extremely poor households in rural forest communities to compensate them for conservation activities. Both countries are using biodiversity offsets to help landowners comply with legal land conservation requirements. Colombia charges hydroelectric and thermal energy plants to carry out watershed conservation projects while Chile uses a market to allocate water abstraction rights. Brazil and Chile have concluded voluntary agreements with the private sector to help combat deforestation and to improve efficiency and sustainability of industry, respectively.

1.6. Financing

Financing biodiversity conservation and sustainable use initiatives remains one of the most significant challenges for Latin America. In the face of competing priorities and limited financial resources, biodiversity initiatives are often not fully funded. Protected area management, enforcement of existing environmental laws and ecosystem monitoring and reporting are particularly impacted by the lack of financial resources.

All five countries have increased their public budgets for biodiversity. Peru stands out, having increased its budget more than four-fold between 2012 and 2015. Several countries have created biodiversity funds to pool international and private finance and thereby facilitate investment in conservation initiatives. The region is a major recipient of international biodiversity finance: in 2011-15, seven of the top ten countries with the highest share of biodiversity-related finance in total official development assistance (ODA) were located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, finance needs to be scaled up from all sources, both public and private, for biodiversity objectives to be achieved. There is scope to increase the use of economic instruments to raise revenue, such as protected area entrance fees. Improving the efficiency of its use will also remain important.

Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Peru all increased the engagement of the private sector to raise funds for protected area funding, particularly for areas with high tourism potential. All five examined countries are participating in UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (Biofin), which supports countries identify finance needs and gaps. Brazil is expanding the use of biodiversity funds to pool resources and allocate them more efficiently. The Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Funbio), a non-profit private organisation, raises and invests financial resources for biodiversity conservation on behalf of the federal and state governments, in addition to large-scale conservation trust funds (such as the Amazon Fund).

1.7. Mainstreaming

Mainstreaming and aligning sectoral and biodiversity objectives are important in the region, as development continues and many areas remain outside official protection. Effective mainstreaming requires a number of framework conditions to be in place: good governance, effective processes, strong institutions, and political and financial investment and engagement. While improvements have been made – as shown for example by the growing use of strategic environmental assessment of policies, plans and programmes – significant further work is required to ensure that the approaches are comprehensive, consistent, effective and accepted by local communities. Mainstreaming is particularly important in agriculture, forestry, fishing and aquaculture, tourism, and mining, energy and infrastructure development as these sectors depend heavily on natural resources and ecosystems services. However, they are also key sources of ecosystem degradation and conflict. Synergies between biodiversity and climate change mitigation and adaptation are explored and could be further capitalised, for example by means of ecosystem-based approaches.

Reforming support systems is essential to integrate biodiversity into the agriculture sector. The use of pesticides and fertilisers continues to grow in many countries; and it remains subsidised in Mexico, for example. Instruments promoting harmful practices must be phased out, while programmes targeting rural poverty or other social issues are simultaneously introduced or expanded to minimise negative social ramifications. In the forestry sector, the use of certification and afforestation programmes has increased, and large-scale commercial forestry operators have greatly improved their performance. However, greater emphasis is needed on limiting loss of native forest and protecting and restoring priority areas for biodiversity. In both sectors, formalising land tenure, a significant challenge in the region, will be crucial for biodiversity mainstreaming to be a success. Quota systems have been introduced and regulations tightened in the fishing and aquaculture sector. However, monitoring and enforcement must be strengthened, for example concerning regulations to limit effluent, pesticides and medicines from fish farms.

Tourism offers Latin America significant economic opportunity and potential for increased biodiversity financing, but its expansion also presents a risk to biodiversity and ecosystems. The five EPR countries have increased their focus on nature-based tourism. Chile and Mexico have developed national strategies for sustainable tourism; and several countries are pursuing environmental certification schemes for the sector. These efforts are in their early stages and should be sustained.

Brazil is greening its agricultural sector by making access to subsidised rural credit in the Amazon conditional on the legitimacy of land claims and compliance with environmental regulations. Colombia provides financial incentives for investment in eco-tourism and in forest plantations that favour native species over introduced species. It also has an ambitious strategy that calls for the return of 10 million ha of pasture and agricultural land to a more natural state, for example through reforestation. Chile established over hundreds of areas where exclusive rights are assigned to organisations of artisanal fishers, and amended its Law on Fishing and Aquaculture to base the establishment of its fishing quotas on scientific and technical factors. Peru has established a dedicated office to resolve mining-related disputes.

Mining is an important source of revenue in the five EPR countries, and energy and other infrastructure is expanding to meet the needs of growing economies and populations. Improvements have been made in legislative and regulatory processes, yet further effort is needed to enhance environmental monitoring and enforcement, ensure rigorous and collaborative environmental impact assessment processes, address conflicts with local and indigenous populations, and accelerate clean-up of abandoned mines. Environmental impact assessments often come too late in the process to significantly alter projects, lack consistent integration of biodiversity concerns, do not apply to smaller projects (e.g. small-scale and artisanal mining) or provide for only limited public participation in the process. More work is also needed to improve the application of land use planning, strategic environmental assessments, and other economic and environmental analysis surrounding infrastructure investment decisions.


← 1. These include the EPRs of Japan (2010), Norway, Israel (2011), Mexico, South Africa (2013), Colombia, Sweden (2014), Poland, Spain, Brazil (2015), France, Chile (2016), Switzerland (2017) and Hungary (2018).

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