Parks, reserves and other protected areas are some of the most valuable places on the planet. Protected ecosystems help clean the water we drink and the air we breathe, maintain the soil we use to grow food, store carbon to mitigate climate change, and provide many health benefits. They support a tourism industry worth billions of dollars and provide jobs and livelihoods to countless people around the world.
Despite their high value, many protected areas are having trouble making ends meet. Protected areas in developing countries face a funding gap of over 1 billion USD. Costs are rising, driven by increasingly well-equipped poachers, new ambitious global goals and emerging pressures relating to climate change. Government budget allocations are not enough to keep up – in many cases they are shrinking.
We need to find new ways to fund protected areas or we will lose the value of the resources they contain. Innovation in conservation financing is happening at a rapid pace. Experiments with conservation bonds, innovative taxation schemes, market-based fees, biodiversity enterprise funds and other frameworks for generating and channeling resources for conservation have shown promise. Innovative ideas are coming from local communities, protected areas managers and civil society. Implementation of these ideas in specific sites requires significant capacity and technical support.
In some ways, protected areas can be thought of as a business. There needs to be enough income to cover outgoing expenses, always with an eye to the bottom line. Like many businesses, protected areas may need some help getting these systems set up. IUCN will provide this help through an incubator. An incubator provides technical expertise, guidance, advice and resources to help get businesses off the ground. The IUCN protected area finance incubator will provide these services to protected areas seeking to improve their business model and achieve financial sustainability. The ultimate goal will be to put sites in a position to meet the standard of the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas.
In its pilot phase, the incubator will work with 10 sites from different regions of the world. An open call was sent out to identify sites with innovative and feasible ideas for solving the financing problems they face. A working group was set up to bring together specialists in law, business, finance and protected areas to work directly with the selected sites to design and implement solutions. The demonstration sites will serve as a model for setting up workable financing systems in protected areas around the world. The lessons and successes will be showcased through PANORAMA.
 IUCN, Sustainable Financing of Protected Areas: A global review of challenges and options (2006).