Study Shows High Return on Investment for Protected Areas

"Parks are not just a natural resource, they are an economic resource that benefit all Mexicans." 

Juan Bezaury
Mexico Country Representative for The Nature Conservancy

by Christiana Ferris
Vea también en español

Just how much are parks and protected areas worth to society? How does $3.4 billion sound?

That's the number that Juan Bezaury determined in a survey he and The Nature Conservancy commissioned in 2008.

As the Conservancy’s Mexico country representative, he knew that parks provide intangible benefits to nature, such as sheltering animals and plants—some of which are found nowhere else on earth—and that protected areas afford sustenance to people, space for recreation and spiritual rejuvenation, and cleaner air to breathe.

In fact, many of Mexico’s public protected areas are multiple-use zones, that is, people live, work, farm and fish within park boundaries. Throw in the measurable value of services like freshwater, carbon storage and tourism income generated by parks, and it’s undeniable that the country’s natural wealth is an undervalued economic asset, too.

But Bezaury, together with Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP), wanted the data to back it all up.

Running the Numbers

So in 2008 the Conservancy commissioned a study using CONANP data and research from the National Autonomous University of Mexico's School of Economics to evaluate how Mexico’s natural protected areas generate goods and services that benefit the country’s economy and local people.

The findings, published in October 2009, revealed that Mexico’s parks and other protected areas provide a 52-to-1 return on federal investment for the Mexican economy. Specifically, they:

  • mitigate climate change through sequestering $2.5 billion worth of carbon
  • protect as much as $260 million in freshwater sources
  • stimulate local and national economic growth and contribute substantially to government revenues from tourism spending to the tune of $555 million

We're talking about nearly $3.4 billion,” Bezaury says. “That's an impressive figure. We now can prove that protected areas are not just an important natural resource; they are an economic resource that benefits all Mexicans. So it’s in our economic interest to invest in them.”

Making the Case for Greater Park Funding

The ultimate aim of the study is to demonstrate to the Mexican federal government the payoff of public spending on protected areas and to engage policymakers in long-term financing for protected areas. The report also proposes ways to generate revenue in support of protected areas, such as a compensation tax on public infrastructure development, a carbon emissions tax for air travel, and redirecting existing public rural and fisheries budgets towards environmentally friendlier production. 

“If Mexico continues to undervalue nature at the policy level,” Bezaury concludes, “it will prove extremely costly down the road in economic terms.”

For more details, read a summary of the Valuing Nature study in English or read the full study "El valor de los bienes y servicios que las áreas naturales protegidas proveen a los mexicanos" in Spanish.


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