By Niran Nirannoot - BIOFIN Thailand, Angelique Ogena - BIOFIN Philippines, Ngawang Gyeltshen - BIOFIN Bhutan and Jigme Dorji - UNDP Bhutan, and James Maiden - BIOFIN Global
A delegation from BIOFIN Bhutan visited the Philippines and Thailand under a south-south exchange programme between the BIOFIN countries. The delegation was led by Norbu Wangchuk from the Gross National Happiness (Planning) Commission with key officials from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and UNDP Bhutan.
BIOFIN strongly encourages south-south learning as an important strategy towards the wholesome implementation of the BIOFIN Process. Bhutan has completed the Policy, Institutional and Expenditure Reviews and started its Financial Needs Assessment and screening priority Financing Solutions. It is therefore important for BIOFIN Bhutan to engage in deeper conversations with other BIOFIN countries to share key findings and exchange experiences on prioritising biodiversity financing solutions, business case development and pilot project implementation.
Bhutan, Philippines and Thailand are three vastly different countries in terms of governance, demography, economic development philosophy, society and culture – but similar in their pursuit of finding the right finance solutions to ensure that their biodiversity resources are improved.
The south-south exchange organised by the Bhutan BIOFIN project steering committee comes at a time when both Philippines and Thailand are beginning to implement and explore finance solutions.
Abbie Trinidad, BIOFIN's Senior Technical Advisor covering Bhutan, Thailand and the Philippines said there are common threads between these countries and their experience in biodiversity conservation finance.
"What strikes at the heart of biodiversity conservation, that finds a parallelism with the Bhutan BIOFIN experience, are examples of community-based initiatives, of local leaders, of women, of the real biodiversity challenges being addressed where it matters most," she said.
"I’d like to imagine that our finance solutions includes mechanisms on how to transfer resources from national to site-level. The south – south exchange allows deeper and more engaging conversations that highlight this issue, and is a fulfilling learning experience for everyone."
Deep insights from the Philippines experience
In the Philippines capital Manila, the Bhutan delegation had an opportunity to exchange learning with the BIOFIN Philippines team on the implementation of the BIOFIN methodology, and with key government and non-government organisation partners.
Armida Andres, Chief of the Biodiversity Policy and Knowledge Management Division, and Angelita Meniado, Overall Foreign Assisted Projects of the Biodiversity Management Bureau, shared with the group how BIOFIN’s work in the Philippines' impacts on the government’s policy and planning processes particularly within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
BIOFIN explores a wide range of finance solutions and provides guidance to countries on how to implement these to achieve national biodiversity targets. Influencing policy makers and government departments is a key outcome of BIOFIN and the uptake in the Phillipines has been a leading result from the programme.
The Department of Finance, Municipal Development Fund Office is a special revolving fund for re-lending to Local Government Units. It enables local governments to access financial assistance from local and international sources for the implementation of various social and economic development projects, including environment and biodiversity projects. Director Helen Habulan, gladly shared with the Bhutan delegation their work with and financial assistance to local governments in the Philippines.
John Narag, Chief of the Bilateral Assistance Division under the International Finance Group of DOF, shared with BIOFIN Bhutan its experience in facilitating a debt-for-nature swap between the Philippines and the governments of the USA and Italy.
As a result of the debt-for-nature swap between the Philippines and USA, the Forest Foundation for the Philippines (FFP) and Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) were created.
The Bhutan delegation met with both organisations. Sigyel Delma, who is leading Bhutan's REDD+ development form Ministry of Agriculture and Forests said she had not known about debt for nature swaps before this exchange.
"It is very interesting to see that interest payment for loans are being waived off so that the borrower government can spend it for biodiversity and environment conservation work," she said. "It is a very good strategy for financing conservation activities which can support both biodiversity and livelihoods."
Moving to Thailand
With support from the Small Grants Programme of UNDP Thailand, the team engaged in learning and sharing lessons about sustainable biodiversity management in Chomthong Sub-district of Phitsanulok province. This unique community has very strong leadership and are keen to share their knowledge about their conservation management.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the community members of the Chomthong Sub-district of Phitsanulok province have a very good understanding of the global agenda such as the SDGs and the COP21," said Jigme Dorji, Portfolio Analyst, Environment & Livelihoods, UNDP Bhutan.
"The local community has been leading the implementation of climate actions and biodiversity conservation programmes from the grassroots. Bhutan can learn from Thailand’s experience in raising more awareness among the community members about the impact of climate change and on the importance of biodiversity conservation and promotion," he said.
During the exchange, the teams reviewed recommendations from Policy, Institutional and Expenditure reviews, learned about the identification and/or implementation of financing solutions between the countries and provide recommendations for BIOFIN Bhutan’s selection of financing solutions, explored approaches to private sector and corporate engagement in these countries including financing options, and discussed the institutionalisation of BIOFIN into mainstream government processes.
The "take-home's" to Bhutan
How the delegation will contextualise their learning from the two countries will be an important in upcoming planning within BIOFIN Bhutan. For example, the Bhutanese delegation were exposed to a suite of new financing solutions, with some first time exposure and learning around some of the non-traditional sources of finance.
The Head of Delegation, Norbu Wangchuk said that protecting biodiversity is protecting ourselves. "Biodiversity is a bedrock of human wellbeing and human happiness, which it is impressive to see how well integrated it is with the Philippines Development Plan.”
The exchange also helped to deepen the Finance Ministry delegates understanding and awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation. “Biodiversity as an investment avenue/platform that could deliver significant economic and social returns was one very prominent developmental paradigms articulated into the developmental plan.” said Chief Budget Officer Phuntsho Wangdi.
UNDP’s Jigme Dorji was impressed by the role of non-governmental organizations such as the Forest Foundation for the Philippines and Foundation for the Philippine Environment in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. He believes that Bhutan could learn from the Philippines and explore a mechanism to empower the local NGOs so that they can reach out to local people more effectively in the areas of biodiversity conservation/promotion at the grassroots level.
The learning is timely as Bhutan is in the process of finalising the next Five-Year Development Plan. At the same time, the Royal Government of Bhutan has committed to implement the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs by prioritising three SDGs to demonstrate medium-term results
The BIOFIN Bhutan process pioneers an integrated approach by combining biodiversity and climate change. It aims to build an evidence-based investment case to attract investors to share in the nation’s unique conservation journey, and so supporting global achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land together with Goal 13: Climate Action and Goal 1: No Poverty.