The Recapitalising Conservation Project (RCP) seeks to expand the funding of conservation beyond traditional public and philanthropic sources and help existing funding to be deployed more effectively. It is investigating and developing models to facilitate public and private investment in conservation, as well as the mechanisms required to raise finance and the organisational characteristics and capabilities required to do so.
The late 20th century saw a major expansion in the scope and ambition of nature conservation. The expansion of protected areas and conservation projects, along with the organisational, scientific, and policy enterprise that underpins them, has been funded by a combination of public money (via government budgets, complemented by international transfers) and philanthropic funding from both foundations and individuals.
But these 'traditional' sources of funding for conservation are now insufficient to protect important ecosystems from ever-increasing threats, let alone sufficient to restore ecosystems and the multiple forms of value they can generate for society. Public and philanthropic funding, while critically important for delivery of the conservation agenda, needs to be better prioritised and supported by concessional and non-concessional finance. Without expanded new sources of funding, conservation activities will not take place at the required scale or pace to halt and reverse current levels of ecological harm.
Moreover, the 'conservation sector' has amassed substantial fixed-costs and liabilities and it is not clear how these will be met over the long term, especially in regions of the world that harbour megadiverse ecosystems and fast developing economies. Countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia have large protected area estates with ever increasing management costs and international NGOs and development mechanisms have long-term commitments to help fund components of the infrastructure of international conservation. Given all this, conservation is seriously undercapitalised and it urgently needs a recapitalisation in order to ensure that the 'conservation gap' - between what needs to be funded and what is actually funded - is closed and does not continue to widen.
The Recapitalising Conservation Project (RCP) is built on the University of Oxford Project for Protected Area Resilience (2014-2016). This developed an entirely new asset-based framework for protected area conservation, which has helped to reconceive protected areas; opening up new ways to prioritise and maximise funding for their conservation and management. This provides the starting point for RCP.
Our new phase of work moves up a level to address the financial resilience of the conservation sector and movement. Specifically, we are exploring opportunities to a) reconfigure the architecture of public support for conservation, particularly inter-governmental support in the new economic realities of mega-diverse countries, b) conceptualise and design innovative mechanisms for conservation to attract new sources of funding in the form of financing from public and private sources of capital, and c) test organisational structures and organisational capabilities that have the scope to deliver the rapid recapitalisation of conservation.
Our research draws on the insight developed through our research, teaching, and training on sustainable finance and conservation and of our project partners. Our goal is to generate a body of innovative and forward-looking thinking and practice that others can draw inspiration from in their strategic financial planning.