ARPA For Life: The Largest Tropical Forest Conservation Project in History

Editors’ Note: Morrison & Foerster lawyers care deeply about the future of our planet, and have devoted countless pro bono hours to support the programs of international organizations such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In this guest post, WWF’s Amazon Program Managing Director Meg Symington discusses the impact of one program in which MoFo lawyers advised on: ARPA for Life.

I was only 21 years old when I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon to do field research on spider monkeys. I ended every day in awe of the forest. The monkeys practically dripped from the trees, a family of giant otters cavorted in the lake, and tapir tracks crisscrossed the sandy beach after each rain. Over a dinner of rice and beans, a seasoned researcher who had worked in protected areas throughout the tropics told me, “There are very few places left like this. You don’t know how lucky you are to be working here.”

Eight years later, in the early days of my career at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), I appreciated his wisdom. Many countries I had visited since meeting him had designated protected areas to safeguard the natural resources on which local people and species depended. But they couldn’t afford to staff and maintain them, leaving the areas vulnerable to illegal logging or poaching that degraded or destroyed the very resources they were supposed to protect.

That’s why WWF, in 1999, challenged every country to protect 10 percent of its forests. Brazil was one of the first countries to accept the challenge and, 10 years later, its government had more than tripled the protected area in the Brazilian Amazon.

Coming up with the funds needed to properly manage this land — an estimated $50 million annually— was equally challenging. And at the time (2011), Brazil’s economy had grown to be one of the largest in the world, meaning that donors were becoming reluctant to provide grant funding to the country.

So we took a page from Wall Street’s playbook. It is called Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) and the centerpiece of it is a one-time “closing” that delivers pledged funds when all of the agreed upon conditions are met.

It took over two years — and the help of many partners, including Morrison & Foerster — to complete the project. The end result was the creation of a $215 million fund for 150 million acres of land — the largest tropical forest conservation project ever. WWF and its partners are now using the same approach in Peru and Bhutan. Through a new WWF initiative called Earth for Life, we hope to use the approach to secure an additional 250 million acres of forests in protected conservation areas, as well as indigenous and community-managed reserves.

Although it has been 30 years since I made that first trip to the Peruvian Amazon, I am optimistic that, by using this approach, the Amazon and many other special places like it will continue to exist for future generations.

© Rubens Matsushita / ICMBio

© WWF-US / Ricardo Lisboa