BOSTON, Massachusetts — The Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 is one of the most successful international and environmental policy acts that the U.S. has implemented. Continuously renewed, the act was updated in 2019 to the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act. With the inclusion of coral reefs, the bill protects more resources than ever and is even more beneficial for the developing nations it serves.
How the Program Works
The premise of the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act is to allow certain eligible nations to make “debt-for-nature” swaps. Through the program, developing nations that are indebted to the U.S. government can relieve that debt and also generate funds in local currency for environmental conservation. This offers support and protection not only for the environment but for the larger communities within these countries and the local organizations that do the conservation work.
Rather than making direct payments to the U.S. government, a beneficiary country keeps its resources and simply redirects the resources to local forest and reef conservation activities. These local organizations and the unique relationships fostered between such organizations through this program help to build community and strengthen civil society. Participating countries protect biodiversity, and the U.S. improves its international relations and democratic interactions.
Importance of Forests and Reefs for Developing Nations
In many of the world’s impoverished countries, natural resources like forests and coral reefs are essential to the economy and to daily life. More than 25% of the world’s population relies on forests to earn a living. In many developing countries, fuelwood is the primary energy source. However, forests provide much more than just energy. Forests offer food, medicine, shelter and clothing. Forests offer employment opportunities in addition to resources and goods, serving as a major source of revenue in impoverished nations. Forest conservation in these areas is especially vital not only for environmental sustainability but the sustainability of human life and communities as well.
Similarly, many people are dependent on coral reefs for their livelihoods and other needs. In Asia alone, the catches of fish from shallow coastal areas, which tend to be the most reef-dominant, support more than one billion people. Fish is not only a vital food source for many impoverished countries but a major source of protein for 85% of that population. The health and biodiversity of reef ecosystems in impoverished countries support developing economies and billions of individuals.
The Reauthorization Act
The proposal to reauthorize the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act for 2021 has already passed in the House of Representatives with H.R.241. The identical bill is now on the Senate legislative calendar as S.335, hoping to be passed there as well. If the reauthorization passes both houses, the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act will continue to protect vulnerable and vital ecosystems all over the world and serve the developing nations that depend on these ecosystems. The policy implemented by this act has had significant positive environmental and democratic impacts in the U.S. and globally since it was first enacted. Its reauthorization will ensure continued work toward progress and prosperity.
– Samantha Silveira