House Budget Cuts Threaten People and Places Worldwide

Written by Matt Barrett on . Posted in Act, The Wonk Room

Check out our Use Your Outside Voice page on for more information and to see how you can take action.

As we have covered in this space, there are places and people all over the world who will be affected by the long list of dramatic cuts to international conservation and climate change solutions that have been proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In short, the House has proposed to cut U.S. investments in international conservation programs by approximately 65 percent overall, with many programs seeing eliminated funding. More specifically, the U.S. invests about $1 billion a year for international climate change work (about three cents out of $100) and the House proposal would cut this number by about 40 percent or more (down closer to a single penny).

But, how might these proposed House budget cuts actually look on the ground in places around the world? Let’s take a quick tour.


In 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invested more than $500 million for protecting biodiversity, conserving forests and promoting sustainable land use, building community resistance to climate disasters and damage, and supporting international clean energy programs in Brazil, Indonesia, and other developing countries. These funds are a mainstay of U.S. bilateral engagement (i.e. engagement between the U.S. and another country) on issues of economic development. Projects, such as the below examples, would be at significant risk with the dramatically reduced funding levels proposed by the House.

Latin America’s Conservation Water Funds. Climate change, deforestation, pollution and other environmental pressures are shrinking the planet’s clean water supply, making people look at fresh water as they never have before—as a valuable good that is produced, sold and consumed and deserves our investment. Many cities draw their water from surface watersheds. A watershed is an area of land where the precipitation it receives drains to a common water body such as a river or lake. The degradation of these land areas, exacerbated by climate impacts, can reduce water quality and quantity for people.

Funding from USAID supported the development of an innovative self-sustaining fund for watershed conservation in Quito, Ecuador, which now attracts in-region funding to safeguard the landscape and people’s water. Since the start of this program, seven more funds have been established in Ecuador and Colombia, protecting roughly 4 million acres of natural lands and sources of water for more than 11 million people.

Southeast Asia’s Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade Program. This USAID-funded program enhances biodiversity and community livelihoods while reducing carbon pollution by improving forest management and bringing transparency to the international timber trade.

The program has brought improved management practices to 7.5 million acres of forest. One example is testing of a simple logging system, called the monocable winch system, that extracts timber with minimal damage to the surrounding environment – making it a far more sustainable and environmentally sound system than logs pulled by bulldozers, for example. This program also creates alternative employment for local people previously engaged in illegal logging. It is estimated that programs like this can reduce carbon pollution from forest management by up to 50 percent compared to “business as usual” logging activities.

Bill Millan, a senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy says, “It’s been estimated that competition from illegally harvested foreign timber and forest products costs U.S. business over $1 billion annually, so anything that discourages illegal logging and promotes sustainable forestry is not only good for those countries longer-term, it is good for U.S. business right now too.”


The Forest Investment Program (FIP) is helping countries address carbon pollution and creating sustainable economic development opportunities through forest conservation. In 2010, the U.S. invested $20 million in the FIP program. President Obama requested $95 million for 2011. The House cuts would eliminate FIP investments by the United States and place programs that can create real-world results, like the example below, at risk.

Fighting carbon pollution with forest conservation in Brazil and Indonesia. Brazil and Indonesia are among eight countries selected as pilot programs under the FIP. These two countries account for about half of the world’s deforestation but also present the greatest opportunities for forest conservation. Brazil sees the FIP as a very important source of funds for improving sustainable forest management in local communities as well as for planting trees in previously deforested and damaged areas. The country believes it is critical that these types of activities be elevated to the national level so that forest conservation work done in one area of Brazil is not achieved at the expense of increased deforestation in another region of the country. Funding from the FIP could be instrumental in helping achieve national scale work in both Brazil and Indonesia by helping to expand forest monitoring systems to the national level and helping to implement a national forest inventory.


The Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) helps countries become more resilient in the face of severe climate change impacts. In 2010, the U.S. invested $55 million in the PPCR. The President’s 2011 budget request was for $90 million. The House proposal would eliminate U.S. funding.

The PPCR provides funding to many beneficiary countries that will be hit hard by sea level rise, drought, crop shortages, and other severely destabilizing impacts from climate change. Here are just two examples of activities that the PPCR has helped fund and that need additional support to provide on-ground results to their people:

Buffering Coastal Areas in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has suffered a high proportion of the world’s deadliest cyclones and is ranked one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Funding from the PPCR is helping the country put plans in place to shore up the coastal embankment to be higher and better constructed to withstand cyclones and storm surges, maintain water supply and sanitation in the coastal area and encourage farmers in the coastal area to plant crops that are resilient to changes in weather.

Fighting Hunger in Niger. In Niger, the country is in a battle against drought events exacerbated by climate change. Most of the agriculture is rain-fed, and with lack of rain, crop yields are poor. Niger has had seven droughts in the last 40 years, and this year’s drought has brought famine to several regions of the country. The PPCR is supporting projects to improve climate resilience and food security. The strategy calls for including climate resilience throughout the country’s development strategies, expanding sustainable land management initiatives, updating the quality of weather and climate information and making it publicly available, and improving weather monitoring and evaluation.


Since 1998, the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) has provided countries with the option to relieve official debt owed to the U.S. while generating funds in local currency for tropical forest conservation and strengthening local communities. This exchange has been nicknamed “debt-for-nature swaps.”

As of 2010, there have been 17 TFCA agreements, which over time will generate more than $266 million in commitments for forest conservation. The U.S. invested $20 million to these swaps in 2010. The Nature Conservancy and a handful of other NGOs have contributed $18 million to this program. In fact, the Conservancy is currently working with the Treasury Department, the Government of Indonesia and WWF on a debt swap in Indonesia that will meet critical forest conservation needs for fighting carbon pollution and helping local communities in critical areas of the country.

Eliminating funding for TFCA would result in missed opportunities for mutually beneficial conservation agreements like the examples below.

Preserving Tropical Forests, Species and Sustainable Livelihoods in Costa Rica. In September 2007, the U.S. government, Costa Rican government, and partners including The Nature Conservancy agreed to reduce Costa Rica’s debt payments to the U.S. by $26 million over the next 16 years through the TFCA’s debt-for-nature swaps program to protect and restore the country’s important tropical forest resources. The areas selected for protection under this program represent the top conservation targets in Costa Rica:

The Osa Peninsula, where the rainforest meets the sea, is home to the jaguar, squirrel monkey, scarlet macaw and over 370 bird species; it faces severe threats of illegal logging, poaching, and over-development
Totuguero, a vulnerable ecosystem near the Caribbean Sea, consists of rich expanses of forests and provides a safe refuge for jaguars, green macaws and several species of turtle
La Amistad contains Costa Rica’s largest untouched tract of rainforest and is home to most of the country’s indigenous communities, which work with Conservation International and the Conservancy to pursue sustainable livelihoods
Maquenque in northern Costa Rica is rich in wetlands, lagoons, forests and hills and is home to the great green macaw and ocelots
Zona Norte del Rincon de la Vieja, north of the Rincón de la Vieja volcano, contains some of the largest forest cover in Central America
Nicoya Peninsula is a tourist destination in northwest Costa Rica with rich biological corridors that connect protected areas

In October 2010, the U.S. and Costa Rican governments, together with the Conservancy entered into a second debt for nature swap for Costa Rica under the TFCA. This generated $27 million for supporting the long-term sustainability of the country’s national system of conservation areas.

Conserving Forests and Working with Local Communities in Guatemala. In 2006, the U.S. and Guatemalan governments, together with international NGOs, concluded a debt-for-nature swap that will generate $24 million over 25 years for protecting and restoring the country’s tropical forests. In the area of Peten, grants from the TFCA have supported protected area patrolling, and protecting against illegal deforestation and resource extraction. In the Motagua-Polochic region, the TFCA program has supported conflict resolution in order to help resolve management and territorial governance conflicts challenging the integrity of protected areas.

Protecting the sea turtles and natural shoreline buffers of El Salvador. In El Salvador, Mangrove forests serve as vital hatchery habitat for many coastline marine species and act as protective buffers of the shoreline. Since 2002, grants from the TFCA have supported guardians, management plans and alternative livelihoods for communities living near sea turtle nesting sites. These areas have seen substantial recovery of sea turtle population and maintained strong natural shoreline buffers that help protect communities from storms.


An independent financing organization, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funds activities related to climate change, biodiversity, and other global conservation objectives. Each dollar the U.S. invests leverages four dollars in funds from other countries. The U.S. has currently pledged roughly $143 million to the GEF. The House-proposed cuts would cut approximately $100 million from this pledge and could cripple the GEF if other donors react by withholding their own funds. What kinds of projects might be severely affected?

Protecting Brazil, the “Thermostat of the Planet.” The Amazon Basin is one of the key thermostats of the planet. It helps to regulate temperature, rainfall and other weather patterns thousands of miles away. The Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded Amazon Region Protected Area program has helped turn an area the size of Poland into legally protected forestland. These protected areas could prevent 105,019 square miles of deforestation through 2050. The first phase of the program protected roughly 77 million acres (exceeding the goal of 44 million acres by 75 percent). A second phase is underway that is looking at 25 additional land areas in the basin for future protection. Continued GEF funding is critical to keep this program moving toward remarkable and meaningful reductions in carbon pollution.

Funding Cutting-Edge Marine Protection in the Caribbean. By providing $975,000 in grants and attracting more than $3 million in co-financing, the GEF has helped establish a 25,000 square mile Caribbean archipelago marine protected area, the largest in the Caribbean and one of the 10 largest in the world. The program is cutting edge, using a community-based program to allow for a range of human activities and ecological protections governed by the people who live there. As part of that community-level work, the marine protected area features a series of “no-take” areas (which strictly limit resource removal) critical for restoring reef system health.

Improving Water Supply Resilience in Senegal. In Senegal, the GEF is funding watershed management and water retention activities that will help ensure the supply and availability of water for agricultural use in a scenario of increasing climate change-induced water scarcity. By targeting a climate vulnerable resource key to sustain agriculture, the project will contribute to meet food security and rural livelihoods objectives that are undermined by the effects of climate change.

Again, for more information and to see how you can take action, check out our Use Your Outside Voice page on

Matt Barrett is marketing manager for climate change at The Nature Conservancy

Photo: © Scott Warren 2007 (Aerial view of forest clearing on watershed land in Brazil’s Cantareira system) 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Comments (1)

  • Kit


    We must stop the endless “discussions” about the need to clean up our planet, develop solid long term policies that will make changes about the responsibilities of those who pollute. We may be too late but we must try.


Leave a comment

About Planet Change

Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

The Nature Conservancy