In this view from under and above water, two people in wet suits harvest seaweed from the waters of Belize.
Seaweed farmers in Belize Mariko Wallen and Louis Godfrey are seaweed farmers in Placencia, Belize. They farm two species: Eucheuma (for consumption) and Gracilaria (used for skin treatments and cosmetics). Their farm is part of a program sponsored by TNC to bring seaweed aquaculture to the area in cooperation with the Placencia Fishermen Cooperative. © Randy Olson/TNC
Land & Water Stories

Nature Bonds: Unlocking Funds for Conservation and Climate Action

TNC’s Nature Bonds program combines debt refinancing and robust conservation plans to help countries protect ecosystems and support communities.

Ecosystems and natural resources around the world are under threat. The climate crisis and other pressures are accelerating biodiversity loss, worsening food and water insecurity, and leading to loss of lives and livelihoods. For many indebted countries, it’s a struggle to access the finances needed to protect communities and natural resources and address climate change, even when there is the ambition to do so.

As part of last year’s agreement on a Global Biodiversity Framework, governments have pledged to protect 30 percent of the world’s land, freshwater and oceans by 2030. It’s a landmark agreement that together with the Paris Climate Accord sets vital goals for people and nature. The more we protect and effectively manage nature, the more we can safeguard ecosystems that are critical to supporting the well-being of communities through benefits like increased climate resilience and improved food and water security. But that’s not all. Protecting nature at scale also helps the world in its battle to reduce carbon emissions and stem global warming. Forests and oceans soak up an estimated 11 gigatons of carbon each year – about a third of emissions from industry and fossil fuels annually.

Yet for many developing countries, debt burdens and lack of access to international capital means reaching these critical biodiversity and climate targets is a severe challenge. That’s where Nature Bonds come in.

Closing the Nature Finance Gap

For over 70 years, The Nature Conservancy has been pioneering initiatives to protect nature, with sustainable financing a core element of our work. Piloted in Seychelles in 2016, our approach—dubbed Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation—has proven highly effective. There are now four projects underway, including supporting Belize, in conserving 30 percent of its oceans by 2026, and the Gabon Blue Bonds project, which is expected to generate more than $160 million for conservation over the next 15 years.

The effectiveness of these projects present a huge opportunity for countries to leverage the financial innovations across wider conservation goals, so in 2023, we launched our Nature Bonds program - a long-term plan to help indebted countries bridge the financing gap and  address climate change and preserve the wellbeing of ecosystems at sea, in freshwater and on land. 

Zebras relaxing on the Serengeti, Tanzania.
Nature of Africa Zebras relaxing on the Serengeti, Tanzania. © Jeffrey Sipress

What are Nature Bonds?

Nature Bonds are a holistic plan to leverage debt refinancing for effective, durable conservation and climate action. We work with governments to refinance debt and help them re-invest the savings in conservation, and in climate mitigation and adaptation measures. Once the transaction closes, we partner with national governments to make direct conservation investments and implement robust conservation plans, which often span 15 to 20 years. For each Nature Bonds project TNC acts as a long-term partner, providing guidance and support to countries throughout.  

With strong partnerships and collaboration between governments, funders, and multilateral development banks, Nature Bonds is helping countries refinance debt and re-invest the savings in nature conservation and climate action.

Jennifer Morris CEO of The Nature Conservancy

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Nature Bonds projects combine debt refinancing, science, policy and planning to support national governments and communities in their efforts to protect biodiversity and advance climate adaptation and mitigation.

To make Nature Bonds projects possible, TNC engages with governments, financial institutions, NGO partners and community stakeholders to ensure that the project outcomes are a win for both nature protection and sound fiscal management.

The Nature Bonds program builds on our experience with Blue Bonds projects in Seychelles, Belize, Barbados and Gabon. Our project in Barbados is one example of the deep collaboration behind our holistic approach to leveraging debt refinancing for action on conservation and climate priorities. We worked with the Barbadian government under Prime Minister Mia Mottley, partners from the financial and conservation spheres, and communities to develop a set of commitments for durable conservation that is tailored to Barbados.

A man looks up in awe at enormous trees in Valdivian Coastal Reserve.
Hosting Carbon & Biodiversity Erwin Ovando, one of the Valdivian Coastal Reserve park guards, standing among Alerce trees (Fitzroya cupressoides), which can grow up to 4,000 years old making them the second oldest growing tree species in the world, Valdivian Coastal Reserve, Los Rios, Chile. © Nick Hall

TNC will be working in Barbados with stakeholders like fishers, the tourism sector and with communities and local NGOs on marine spatial planning to design marine protections and management plans that balance conservation and the development of a sustainable Blue Economy.  Launching the project in 2022, we worked with the InterAmerican Development Bank, Credit Suisse and CIBC First Caribbean Bank to secure new funds through a $150-million debt refinancing that is expected to channel $50 million to marine conservation over a period of 15 years and help achieve lasting benefits to nature and the local economy. By replicating projects like this, the Nature Bonds program is committed to ensuring financing for conservation and climate adaptation and mitigation not just in the immediate future but over the long term.

Such innovative approaches require financial resources to get off the ground, and all our work is made possible by philanthropic support that enables us to develop new debt transaction projects and offer countries tailored science, policy and planning support to deliver effective and durable conservation outcomes. 

A goliath grouper's head emerges among thousands of small fish.
Goliath in Lilliput Decades ago, following severe declines in populations of Goliath Grouper, Florida banned their fishing, leading to an increase in the population. © Tom Shlesinger/TNC Photo Contest

Communities and conservationists – Communities have a vital role to play in the development and implementation of Nature Bonds projects, alongside conservationists and other experts. In the Seychelles, more than 100 stakeholders were consulted during the preparation of the country’s Marine Spatial Plan, which supports the sustainable development of the Seychelles Blue Economy through activities such as fishing, tourism and more while ensuring that marine environments and ecosystems and community livelihoods are protected.

Country leaders and policymakers – Political leaders around the world are making important new commitments on funding, conservation and addressing the climate crisis. Nature Bonds projects rely on their leadership and ambition to deliver on pledges. Support from the government of Belize was critical to the success of a Blue Bond project that will protect 30 per cent of Belize’s oceans. Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño said that “Blue Bonds will help us support the vibrant marine life that reside here, and maintain the rich biodiversity that is crucial for the health of our ecosystem and the planet. We are proud to be pioneers in this work, and to lead the way for other countries to join us as we conserve our oceans for Belize and beyond.”

Philanthropic partners – Support from our philanthropic partners and the involvement of other funders helps us provide the expert advice and convening power that underpins Blue Bonds and Nature Bonds projects. Funders also support TNC’s in-country staff, who play a key role in seeing our rigorous conservation projects through from start to finish.

Financial partners – Nature Bonds projects are made possible by the support of multilateral development banks as well as other financial partners who provide credit enhancements that allow countries to access the best outcomes and offer expert advice. In Gabon, we collaborated with the US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to develop a debt refinancing and conservation program that met Gabon’s needs and ambitions. DFC CEO Scott Nathan explained, “DFC’s political risk insurance provided critical support for this historic transaction, helping to mobilize capital from institutional investors and catalyze additional investment in Gabon’s marine conservation efforts.”

Brilliantly colored glacial lagoons sit beneath peaks and glaciers of monstrous sizes in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru.
Natural Opportunities Brilliantly colored glacial lagoons sit beneath peaks and glaciers of monstrous sizes in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru. © Kevin Wells/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Now is the Time for Action

We must act now to preserve nature, accelerate action on climate adaptation and mitigation and biodiversity conservation pledges at the national and international level, and support the wellbeing of communities and ecosystems around the world.  Global movements such as the Bridgetown Initiative and the Nairobi Declaration are also adding their voices to the call for urgent climate finance action, and Nature Bonds projects will work in cooperation alongside these types of initiatives as a part of the growing global movement for urgent action on the biodiversity loss and climate crises.

Nature Bonds projects are an exciting path to support countries in financing and accelerating projects that move the world toward reaching global biodiversity and climate commitments – but more ambition, funding and partnerships are needed to help them achieve maximum impact.

Debt refinancing is a key tool for unlocking new funds and addressing the nature and climate finance gaps, and we hope new partners will join efforts to accelerate action on climate adaptation and mitigation and conservation.