Over the past four years, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), together with its partners Forest Trends and Biotope, have been operating an innovative program called Conservation, Impact Mitigation and Biodiversity Offsets (COMBO) in Africa. The programs overarching aim is as simple as it is ambitious: to reconcile economic development with the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Infrastructure and industry investments can significantly impact and transform critical habitats and wildlife in the absence of strong planning and effective regulation. COMBO has worked with Governments, the private sector, academia, civil society, and financial institutions in the nations of Mozambique, Madagascar, Uganda and Guinea to establish and implement a regulatory framework that will reduce the tension between development and conservation goals.
The objective is to identify priority areas for conservation, then avoid development of those areas as part of COMBO’s efforts to avoid a loss of biodiversity.
The COMBO initiative — funded by AFD, FFEM and Mava Foundation — provides technical assistance to countries as they implement successively more rigorous standards and requirements, beginning with the expectation that a given investment avoid or minimize where possible its impact on nature, followed by a further expectation that the project will offset any remaining impacts as it proceeds.
The objective is to identify priority areas for conservation, then avoid development of those areas. In places where development takes place and biodiversity is impacted, a robust offset program ensures additional conservation outcomes and the long-term financing of that conservation as part of COMBO’s efforts to avoid a loss of biodiversity while generating additional funds for conservation.
WCS recently organized the COMBO project’s final evaluation meeting in Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique this past November.
Sixty participants from nine countries attended the meeting, including delegates from the Governments of Mozambique, Madagascar, Uganda and Guinea, as well as representatives from the French Development Agency (AFD), the oil and gas sector (TOTAL and ENI), and civil society organizations such as the Mozambican Fund for Biodiversity .
The project evaluation highlighted the success of the COMBO project thus far to advance environmental policy in the four countries in a relatively short period of time.
The project evaluation highlighted the success of the COMBO project thus far to advance environmental policy in the four countries, capturing the great strides that have already been achieved in a relatively short period of time. The Governments committed to furthering their efforts and outlined plans for implementation of future projects in the coming years.
Importantly, the participants discussed how the policy framework could be employed to help governments meet biodiversity conservation targets and engage more effectively with civil society and the financial sector to ensure effective mitigation and offsets. The external evaluators urged donors to continue project financing to build on the the impressive gains of the first four years.
The evaluators likewise argued that the COMBO project serves as a model for addressing the loss of biodiversity through a combination of effective policy, improved planning based on the collection and sharing of biodiversity data, and the development of the financial, institutional, and legal tools necessary for successful implementation.
When wedded to a strong program to build capacity within governments and civil society, COMBO offers a road map for other countries interested in achieving development goals while committing to the priority of successful biodiversity conservation.