3. Institutional and policy frameworks

This chapter examines progress in the governance of biodiversity in Latin America. It begins with an overview of the institutional settings in the reviewed countries, including mechanisms for stakeholder participation. The chapter then discusses the overarching biodiversity strategies, legislation, goals and targets. The role of regional and global biodiversity initiatives is also considered. The final section discusses the status of data and knowledge, including on the economic and social value of biodiversity.


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.

3.1. Introduction

Institutional and policy frameworks for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use have improved significantly over the past decade. Environment Ministries are leading the development of new policies and programmes, co-ordination mechanisms are improving and dedicated agencies are increasingly being established to manage protected areas. Efforts to improve the participation of stakeholders, indigenous peoples and local communities in project and land-use decision making are also accelerating.

International agreements and organisations are helping to drive additional strategies and action plans. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in particular has encouraged countries to update existing strategies to incorporate the 2011-20 Aichi Targets. Regional agreements such as the Latin America Initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC) have also been influential, helping to address shared ecosystems and improve information sharing and co-operation.

However, while strategies are proliferating, implementation has remained a challenge. Few countries have managed to comprehensively and effectively integrate biodiversity into sectoral policies. As in other parts of the world, actions are also stymied by lack of adequate financial and human resources, low political priority for biodiversity and lack of capacity and co-ordination across national and regional authorities. A lot of work also remains to rebuild trust with communities regarding decision-making processes, in order to reduce environmental conflict. There are also significant differences across countries in the amount and quality of biodiversity data available.

3.2. Governance and institutions

Effective governance of biodiversity policy development and implementation is essential to improving conservation and sustainable use in Latin America. Significant efforts are being made to strengthen the institutional frameworks for biodiversity. In all five of the EPR countries, the Ministry of Environment – recently established in several countries – is responsible for overall biodiversity policy development. Additionally, co-ordination across ministries has improved, with the establishment of committees and other bodies with broad membership focused on biodiversity.

Four of the five EPR countries have established dedicated agencies for implementation and management of protected areas. Dedicated agencies allow for greater co-ordination, efficiency and focus than fragmented approaches across multiple institutions. Brazil established the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) in 2007 to improve the management of an increasing number of federal protected areas and to separate it from the licensing, monitoring and enforcement of environmental legislation (previously both functions were performed by the federal environment agency). This helped increase transparency of the national protected areas system (OECD, 2015). Colombia has a National Parks Authority, Peru has a National Service for State-Protected Natural Areas (SERNANP) and Mexico has a National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (OECD/ECLAC, 2017, 2014; OECD, 2013). Chile has pending legislation to establish a Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) that will support more effective and efficient biodiversity governance, consolidating activities currently undertaken by multiple organisations, improving enforcement of protected area management plans, and monitoring and inventorying species and ecosystems (OECD/ECLAC, 2016).

Some countries have been experimenting with the decentralisation of environmental responsibilities, with mixed results. Peru transferred the bulk of environmental responsibilities, previously in the hands of sector authorities, to a newly created Ministry of Environment in 2008, while also transferring additional responsibilities to sub-national and local authorities (OECD/ECLAC, 2017). Colombia relies on Autonomous Regional Corporations for biodiversity protection at the local level (OECD/ECLAC, 2014). While there are significant practical advantages to decentralising responsibilities and providing a clear role for local authorities, the way this has been done in Colombia and Peru has led to uneven performance, inconsistent approaches and inadequate human and financial resources in some areas. This highlights the need for mechanisms fostering a better territorial balance across local constituencies by providing support to regional and local governments most in need of strengthening in their technical and financing capacities.

Inter-ministerial commissions are a common tool to ensure co-ordination and with sectoral ministries. Peru’s National Commission on Biological Diversity (CONADIB), which consist of representatives from the public and private sector, monitors the implementation of the commitments arising from CBD and related agreements; it also serves as an advisory and co-ordination body on the sustainable use of biodiversity. Mexico has established a National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), with representation from ten ministries, to improve co-ordination. However, the organisation is more of an applied research organisation than a policy formulation body. The establishment of such a body – potentially building on the model of Mexico’s Inter-Ministerial Commission on Climate Change (Box 3.1) – could further improve co-ordination across institutions and facilitate effective integration of biodiversity into other sector policies. Colombia has established an Inter-sectorial Commission on Climate Change as well as commissions for deforestation control and the sustainable development goals, which are contributing to biodiversity protection. While co-ordination is improving, few countries have comprehensively and effectively integrated biodiversity into sectoral policies (Chapter 6).

Box 3.1. Mexico’s Inter-Ministerial Commission on Climate Change

Mexico’s Inter-Ministerial Commission on Climate Change (CICC) is responsible for formulating national policies and strategies to address climate change, and works to ensure that ministries with responsibilities in relation to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions lead implementation. It is supported by working groups on seven different policy areas, and consultative advisory bodies to engage experts and ensure societal participation. This institutional framework, combined with financial resources for organisations involved, has driven the advancement of climate change policy development and implementation.

Based on the success of the CICC, the EPR of Mexico suggested that an Inter-Ministerial Commission on Biodiversity responsible for formulating new policies and strategies could be created and linked to the existing National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), an applied research organisation that sponsors basic research, compiles and disseminates information and develops capacity.

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Mexico 2013; CONABIO (2016), About Us, www.conabio.gob.mx/web/conocenos/quienes_somos_ingles.html.

3.3. Stakeholder participation and engagement of indigenous peoples and traditional communities

Successfully addressing threats to biodiversity, and developing cost-effective and long-term approaches to conservation and sustainable use, will increasingly require the involvement of the private sector, indigenous peoples and local communities, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (UNEP, 2012). Approaches that leverage private sector financial resources, align environmental and economic objectives, empower and provide opportunities for indigenous peoples and local communities and engage NGOs help extend biodiversity policy beyond government-led, isolated policies and remote protected areas towards an integrated, more effective strategy that reduces conflict and supports positive environmental, economic and social outcomes. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-20 include stakeholder involvement and highlight the importance of including indigenous and local communities in planning and implementation (UNEP, 2012).

Several Latin American countries have incorporated Principle 10 of the 2012 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development into their domestic legislation. The Principle encourages measures at the regional, national, sub-national and local levels to promote access to environmental information, promote public participation in decision-making, and ensure access to justice. As a result, there is a greater prevalence of consultations, public hearings and NGO inclusion in environmental management councils, as well as more environmental courts and tribunals to address cases of environmental conflict. For example, Mexico has 14 consultative bodies to facilitate public participation in environmental matters at the national level, focussing on themes including wildlife management and conservation, natural protected areas, forestry, climate change and water management (OECD, 2013). Colombia recently created the Inter-sectorial Table for Environmental Democracy for the fulfilment of the Escazú Agreement (a regional legally binding agreement that implements Principle 10). The agreement, which was signed by 24 Latin America and the Caribbean countries in March 2018, is also the first agreement worldwide to include dispositions on the protection of defenders of human rights in environmental matters. Implementation challenges remain, however, given the complexity of societies and certain land-use and resource conflicts (UNEP, 2016).

Brazil’s 2007 National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities and the 2012 National Policy on Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands promote the sustainable use of natural resources on indigenous lands and defend the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities. The policies have helped improve relationships between environmental NGOs, the government and organisations working with indigenous peoples, though conflicts over land use rights can still arise with loggers, farmers and miners (OECD, 2015). Roughly 13% of Brazil’s territory is protected by the designation of about 600 indigenous lands, most of which are located in the Amazon. The lands are considered protected areas under the CBD because of the long-standing tradition of indigenous communities to sustainably use natural resources. Deforestation rates on indigenous lands are the lowest in the country. Colombia recently designated ancient territories in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta as traditional area of spiritual, cultural and environmental protection with the aim to defend the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities and promote the sustainable use of natural resources on indigenous lands.

3.4. Biodiversity strategies and legislation

Latin American countries have made significant progress over the last 15 years in developing overarching biodiversity strategies, legislation, goals and targets. Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru have all updated their national biodiversity strategies with a view to incorporate international commitments such as the 2011-20 Aichi Targets under the CBD. However, successful implementation of action plans continues to be a challenge, as a result of a lack of adequate financial and human resources, low political priority assigned to biodiversity and a lack of capacity and effective co-ordination across ministries and regions.

Brazil’s biodiversity strategies have shifted from a “fence-and-protect” approach to one that favours the sustainable use of biological resources and identifies biodiversity priority regions and recognises the role of rural, traditional and indigenous communities in preserving ecosystems. In 2013, Brazil developed five strategic objectives and 20 national biodiversity targets closely aligned with the CBD Strategic Plan 2011-20, which was based on a broad consultation process. A multi-stakeholder panel (PainelBio) is leading a process to define indicators to monitor progress. Biodiversity efforts are also supported by a comprehensive legislative framework, including the 2000 law establishing the National System of Protected Areas (SNUC) and the 2012 Forest Code that regulates the protection of forests on private properties (OECD, 2015).

Chile updated its National Biodiversity Strategy, first published in 2003, in early 2018. The new strategy (which covers the period 2017 to 2030) incorporates the Aichi Targets and corrects some of the implementation challenges that arose in the first strategy. The new strategy shifts the focus from direct actions to enablers such as knowledge, capacity, awareness and education along with clear identification of financial requirements. It also increases the emphasis on ecosystem restoration and connectivity (OECD/ECLAC, 2016). Chile also has several policies, strategies and plans dealing with specific biodiversity-related issues, such as a national policy for the protection of threatened species (2005) and the National Glacier Strategy and Policy (2009).

Mexico’s first National Biodiversity Strategy, developed in 2000, set out a 50-year vision to avert large-scale conversion of natural ecosystems. It focused on four areas: i) knowledge management; ii) valuation of biodiversity; iii) conservation; and iv) diversification of use (OECD, 2013). Mexico updated the strategy in 2016 and broadened its coverage so that its foundations are knowledge and education, communication and environmental culture, its pillars are conservation and restoration, sustainable use and management and attention to pressure factors, and its overarching roof is mainstreaming and governance. The strategy is accompanied by a plan for implementation, with 24 lines of action and 160 actions (Government of Mexico, 2016). Mexico also has a Strategic Forest Programme, which establishes targets up to 2025 to strengthen sustainable development of natural resources in forest ecosystems. It aims to establish plantations over a total area of 875 000 ha by 2025 and ensure that one-third of Mexico’s territory is subject to some form of conservation and sustainable use regime (OECD, 2013).

Colombia has integrated biodiversity and sustainable development into its Constitution and into its National Development Plan. In 2012, the government also adopted a National Policy for the Integral Management of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (PNGIBSE) that seeks to influence environmental management in the country and updates previous policies to align them with CBD objectives and the 2011-20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (OECD/ECLAC, 2014). Colombia’s National Policy on Climate Change includes a strategic line for the management and conservation of ecosystems and their adaptation and mitigation services. In 2018, these policies where reinforced through the Moorlands and the Climate Change Laws.

Peru tasked its National Commission on Biological Diversity (CONADIB) with designing, updating and implementing its National Strategy on Biological Diversity, which runs until 2021. The Strategy also includes a 2014-18 Action Plan, which is supported by the Law on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity and its Regulation (OECD/ECLAC, 2017).

Given that countries can contain a wide range of ecosystems and environmental conditions, some countries have also developed biodiversity strategies at sub-national level. For example, Chile has 15 Regional Biodiversity Strategies that are currently being updated, and Mexico is developing state biodiversity strategies (OECD/ECLAC, 2016; OECD, 2013).

3.5. International and regional co-operation

Biodiversity policy in Latin American countries is significantly influenced by international and regional agreements and processes. International, regional, sub-regional and bilateral organisations and agreements offer significant potential for addressing pressures facing biodiversity in Latin America, and sharing information and best practices that can improve policy design and implementation. The CBD in particular has guided the strategies and commitments of signatory countries and helped to drive further domestic action, along the conventions on the strategic ecosystems of wetlands, wild species trade, ecosystems of forests, and desertification.

Most Latin American countries became parties to the 1992 CBD in the mid-1990s (Brazil was the first CBD signatory in 1992). Many are also parties to the 2003 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Fewer Latin American countries have, however, ratified the 2014 Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing). The Protocol is intended to help create incentives to conserve biodiversity, sustainably use its components and further enhance the contribution of biodiversity to sustainable development and well-being. Mexico, Peru and Colombia have ratified the protocol and begun to implement it domestically, while Brazil has signed the Protocol but not yet ratified it. However, Brazil has a national law on access and benefit sharing. Colombia has also undertaken initiatives to promote access and benefit sharing (Box 3.2). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and follow-up to the Rio+20 meeting in 2012 have also influenced approaches in several countries.

There are many initiatives at the regional level supporting information sharing and policy co-ordination and harmonisation related to biodiversity, such as the Latin American Initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC), adopted in 2002 by the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean. Sub-regional agreements such as the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, the Andean Community, the Central American Commission for Environment and Development and the Meso-American Strategy for Environmental Sustainability as well as numerous river basin agreements and mechanisms, are helping to drive co-ordinated action to improve biodiversity conservation and sustainable use (UNEP, 2013). Bilateral agreements can also be an important mechanism for boosting capacity and sharing best practices. Chile, for example, has initiatives in place with Canada and the United States focused on improving the management of certain protected areas (OECD/ECLAC, 2016). Brazil is a party to 233 bilateral and multilateral co-operation agreements, of which 22% have environmental themes (OECD, 2015).

Box 3.2. Colombia’s approach to access and benefit sharing

Equitable benefit sharing from the use of genetic resources is an issue in Colombia, as 27% of the country’s area under protection is on indigenous reservations or collective territories. In addition, innovation in biotechnology is an engine of growth in development plans.

Between 2004 and 2011, Colombia signed 45 agreements on access to genetic resources for research purposes. In 2011, the government released a national strategy on biotechnology and sustainable use that aims to improve institutional capacity for commercial development of biotechnology from biodiversity, adopt a set of economic instruments to attract public investment and private companies interested in developing products, adapt and revise a regulatory framework for access to genetic resources, and evaluate the creation of a national bio-prospecting company.

Colombia established free, prior and informed consent for indigenous groups in law through the ratification of 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (the International Labour Organisation Convention 169). The provision of information to indigenous groups and the right of ethnic groups to exploit resources by traditional methods are also recognised by law. However, the EPR of Colombia noted that experience with free, prior and informed consent in relation to extractive industries was mixed, and suggested a strengthening of the arrangements for enforcement of fair access. This would ensure that companies comply with requirements, and that local and ethnic groups retain access to areas they have traditionally used. At the same time, the increasing investment, commercialisation and involvement of the private sector in the use of genetic resources underlines the importance of adequate provision for fair and equitable benefit sharing. The EPR recommended a formal system of benefit sharing to be established.

Source: OECD/ECLAC (2014), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Colombia 2014.

3.6. Status of data and knowledge

Comprehensive and accurate data and knowledge of the status of ecosystems and species, expanded monitoring and reporting of trends, and better insight into the economic and social importance of biodiversity are essential to informing decision-making, building public consensus around biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, identifying priorities for action and effectively designing and implementing biodiversity policy.

Despite significant improvement in the extent and depth of environmental indicators in Latin America over the past decade, a lack of biodiversity knowledge remains a key challenge. Brazil is estimated to host nearly 44 000 plant species and more than 104 500 vertebrate and invertebrate species, yet as of 2014 only 12 000 fauna species had been assessed. As mentioned above, Chile has assessed about 1 000 species, or 3.5% of known species in the country. However, the National Institute for Amazon Research in Brazil – one of the world’s largest and most important research institutions on tropical biology – is actively working to improve species inventories and disseminate scientific knowledge of the Amazon biome, and Chile’s environment ministry has announced plans to move forward with a National Ecosystem Assessment in 2016 or 2017 so as to improve the knowledge base (OECD/ECLAC, 2016).

Knowledge of the status and trends in marine and freshwater ecosystems is particularly limited. For example, Chile has classified less than 4% of fish species, and a lack of continuous and comprehensive data on the status of water bodies and coastal areas is a serious obstacle to effective management of water resources in the country (OECD/ECLAC, 2016). Given the paucity of data on marine ecosystems, other Latin American countries would benefit from following in the footsteps of Colombia to conduct independent assessments of their marine ecosystems using the international Ocean Health Index methodology. Independent assessments use the same framework as the global assessments, but allow for exploration of variables influencing ocean health at the smaller scales where policy and management decisions are made (Ocean Health Index, 2015). This would help countries to understand where to focus protection efforts.

Mexico has one of the most developed systems of biodiversity information in Latin America. Its National Biodiversity Information System includes satellite imaging data, electronic cartography, data on species and an early warning fire detection system, with priority areas such as mangroves and cloud forests being the focus of ecosystem monitoring. There is also a National Forest Information System, which includes a forestry and soil inventory, and fishery data. Mexico’s System of Information, Monitoring and Evaluation of Conservation is used to analyse the effectiveness and impact of public policy implementation in priority regions for conservation (OECD, 2013). Brazil is a world leader in satellite-based deforestation monitoring systems, providing an example of how technology can improve knowledge for effective decision making (Box 3.3). Colombia has a Monitoring System of Forest and Carbon which tracks changes in the coverage of natural forest as well as five national environmental research institutions, including one specialised on biodiversity (the Biological Resources Alexander von Humboldt Research Institute). Colombia has also made significant progress in the generation of information on wetlands. However, the country lacks a long-term research agenda.

Box 3.3. Brazil’s deforestation monitoring systems

The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has monitored forest cover in the Amazon region annually since 1988. This monitoring system was improved in 2002 with the adoption of digital classification of satellite images using the Amazon Programme on Deforestation Monitoring (PRODES) methodology. This new approach drastically improved the precision of deforestation monitoring. INPE also runs the Real Time Detection Programme (DETER), a deforestation monitoring system in the Amazon, which shows alerts every two to three days and has been a key support to strategic law enforcement actions. In addition, the DEGRAD system monitors forest degradation and the TerraClass analysis assesses land-use change in previously deforested areas (MMA, 2015). According to TerraClass data, about one-third of the Amazon cleared forest land has been recovering.

In addition to annual monitoring of the Amazon forest cover, in 2008 the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) started a satellite monitoring programme (Programme on Satellite Monitoring of Deforestation in Brazilian Biomes, or PMDBBS) for the other five terrestrial biomes. However, PRODES is more precise than the systems used by PMDBBS, and the data is not fully compatible. Therefore, INPE and IBAMA are collaborating to develop a monitoring system for the entire national territory to generate continuous and compatible data series on deforestation, vegetation cover and land use for all biomes.

Source: OECD (2015), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Brazil 2015.

Many of the benefits associated with biodiversity are not reflected in market prices. Economic valuation studies, which estimate the monetary value of the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, can illustrate the importance of conservation and sustainable use while supporting better policy decisions. Mexico, Brazil and Chile have done several studies on the economic valuation of biodiversity (Box 3.4), but these are not yet used frequently in decision-making processes. Several Latin American countries are involved with the World Bank WAVES (Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services) project that aims to mainstream natural resources in development planning and national economic accounts (WAVES, 2016a). Colombia is one of the core implementing partners that has begun to put in place natural capital accounting, both to support biodiversity management and promote the sustainable use of biodiversity as an engine for development. It initially focused on three pilot watersheds before expanding to integrated national-level accounts for water, forests and land (WAVES, 2016b). Brazil launched a Natural Capital Initiative in 2013 and has made progress on including the value of water resources in national accounting and work is continuing on forest accounting (OECD, 2015). These experiences should be built upon to fully integrate the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services into national accounts.

Box 3.4. Economic valuation of biodiversity

In Mexico, protected areas provide an estimated USD 3.4 billion in economic benefits and cost savings as a result of storing carbon, protecting water supplies and supporting tourism. Every Mexican peso invested in protected areas generates 52 pesos to the economy. In Pacific mangrove areas, the value of ecosystem services is low (USD 1 per hectare), but could be as high as USD 77 per hectare if overexploitation of the fishery is addressed. The Mexican government has used economic valuation of biodiversity to inform the design of its Payment for Ecosystem Services programme and the level of access fees for protected areas.

In Chile, a study estimating the economic values of the Valdivian rainforest ecoregion found values of USD 3 742 per hectare for sustainable forest management, and USD 4 546 for old growth forests. The annual value of maintaining soil fertility was USD 26 per hectare. A 2010 study estimated the monetary value of ecosystem goods and services from Chile’s National System of Protected Areas to be USD 2 million when considering formal protected areas, private conservation areas and priority sites for conservation. This value includes regulating services such as water purification and regulation, pollination, waste treatment, climate regulation, erosion control, species shelter and habitat. It captured direct uses such as supply of food and fibre, water, fuel, tourism and recreation and included the provision of genetic resources and cultural services.

Brazil’s protected areas system is estimated to have prevented the release of about 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, which in monetary terms would correspond to BRL 96 billion. The economic gains from tourism in national parks is estimated at BRL 1.6 billion per year, and sustainable timber logging in the Amazon protected areas generates between BRL 1.2 billion and BRL 2.2 billion annually.

Source: OECD (2013), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Mexico 2013; Bezaury Creel, J.E. and L. Pabón Zamora (2009), Valuation of Environmental Goods and Services Provided by Mexico’s Protected Areas; Nahuelhual L. et al. (2007), “Valuing ecosystem services of Chilean temperate rainforests”, Environment, Development and Sustainability, Vol. 9/4, Springer, pp. 481-499 ; Medeiros, R. and C. Young (2011), Contribuição das unidades de conservação brasileiras para a economia nacional: Relatório Final; OECD (2015), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Brazil 2015; OECD/ECLAC (2016), OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Chile 2016.


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WAVES Partnership (2016b), Colombia, World Bank, Washington D.C., www.wavespartnership.org/colombia.

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