A Major Deal for Galápagos Marine Protections
Amid a surge over the past two decades, large-scale conservation has often been the province of richer countries able to shoulder the significant costs of designing, monitoring, and—crucially—enforcing protected areas. While nations around the world have recently agreed to protect and conserve at least 30% of the planet by 2030 (a target known as “30 by 30”), many countries struggle to secure the funding needed to invest in such large-scale conservation efforts.
However, in May, Ecuador converted $1.6 billion in existing commercial debt into a new $656 million loan, which will save more than $1 billion and generate hundreds of millions more for conservation efforts around the Galápagos Islands. The so-called debt-for-nature swap, which Ecuador achieved with technical support from the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project and other partners, provides one of the world’s most financially challenged countries with the money needed to protect a highly biodiverse and fragile marine ecosystem.
“Our country is as rich as any in the world, with the difference being that our currency is biodiversity,” said Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gustavo Manrique. “The debt swap has shown that biodiversity can be valued by the world and generate the necessary resources to preserve it, without exploiting it.”
In essence, debt-for-nature swaps allow a country that has borrowed money from another nation or foreign investors to generate resources to fund conservation through a new restructured loan—much like refinancing a home. The notion is not new—Barbados and Belize as well as Ecuador are among countries that have secured them in the past—but in financial terms, Ecuador’s is the biggest ever. The conservation funding will help the country sustain the Galápagos’ unique biodiversity and rich fisheries, along with the local economy and communities that depend on the continued abundance of wildlife. The conservation and endowment funding will be directed by the nonprofit Galápagos Life Fund. Those funds may be used only to support the Galápagos Marine Reserve and local efforts to strengthen the economy; improve management, monitoring, and enforcement in the marine reserves; advance sustainable fishing; and build climate resilience for the community.
“Galápagos is already renowned globally for its natural wonders, and now, benefiting from the world’s largest debt-for-nature swap, it can also be known for an innovative finance solution that provides a thriving, inclusive, and sustainable future,” said Tom Dillon, a senior vice president at The Pew Charitable Trusts leading the organization’s work on conservation and environment initiatives in the United States and around the world.
The debt conversion—structured through Credit Suisse—will generate more than $450 million in conservation resources over the next 20 years (and far more beyond that) to help preserve waters that host some of the world’s highest levels of endemism—that is, species found nowhere else on Earth.
Sitting along the equator and at the confluence of three major ocean currents, the Galápagos Islands are home to 3,000 species, including giant tortoises, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and hammerhead sharks, along with whales, dolphins, and a wide variety of tropical fish. It should come as little surprise then that the islands’ waters have long been home to vibrant fisheries.
Unfortunately, climate change, overfishing, and illegal fishing—including in the Galápagos Marine Reserve—have threatened those fisheries in recent years, which led the Ecuadorian government to expand the reserve in 2021, create the adjacent Hermandad Marine Reserve in 2022, and seek more conservation, which the new debt conversion will make possible.
And in cooperation with the fishing industry, the government will require electronic monitoring devices on all industrial purse seine and longline fishing vessels, plus onboard observers on at least 70% of purse seine vessels by the end of 2024, and 20% of longline vessels by the end of 2025. These provisions will greatly aid the government in ensuring compliance with fishing rules in its waters.
Additionally, for the first time, Ecuador will limit the use of fish aggregating devices—raftlike objects that fishers commonly use to attract tuna, which make it easier for purse seine nets to scoop up fish but can result in significant bycatch and marine debris.
All told, these efforts show that Ecuador recognizes the long-term value of preserving nature instead of exploiting it for short-term gain.
“The ocean urgently needs our protection, and that requires large-scale conservation projects, which in turn need large amounts of sustainable financing,” said Dona Bertarelli, a philanthropist, ocean advocate, and patron of nature for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “By delivering the world’s largest debt-for-nature swap, Ecuador has shown that it’s possible to create inclusive economic growth while protecting biodiversity.”
Affordable Small Loans, Now at a Bank Near You
Each year, millions of Americans borrow small amounts of money to help pay the bills. These consumers, many of whom have low credit scores, historically had few options beyond payday and similar high-cost loans, often with excessive interest rates of 300% or more and unaffordable lump-sum payments. But today, more banks and credit unions are offering new alternatives to small-dollar borrowers.
Six of the nation’s largest banks (by branch count), plus many credit unions and community banks, now offer small loans of up to $1,000 that feature fair prices—fees are just a small fraction of the principal—and affordable installment payments. These products, which were made possible by critical federal regulatory changes in 2020 that were informed by research from The Pew Charitable Trusts, have the potential to save millions of vulnerable consumers billions of dollars annually.
These bank loans meet the distinctive needs of small-dollar loan borrowers—who are often in financial distress—as well as or better than payday loans. They are available fast via online or mobile banking and have high approval rates so that customers can quickly get cash to pay for everyday expenses such as rent and food. They also allow borrowers to repay over time, rather than in lump sums like payday loans, giving strapped customers, including people with little or no credit history, time to recover financially.
“For too long, struggling consumers used payday loans when they couldn’t make ends meet,” said Alex Horowitz, who directs Pew’s consumer finance project. “But we know that those borrowers were already bank customers, because you need a checking account to get a payday loan. So it was a logical solution to have banks offer affordable small-dollar loans.”
Pew has played a key role in changing the small-loan marketplace for more than a decade, beginning with pioneering surveys of payday loan borrowers to understand the risks and identify solutions. Given all the progress in recent years, Pew updated its standards to help even more banks and credit unions develop small-credit products that work for their most in-need customers—and make good business sense.
“Banks should be offering fairly priced financial products that meet their customers’ needs to promote people’s financial well-being,” said Horowitz. “And now far more of them are.”
Philadelphia’s 2023 State of the City
As COVID-19 concerns largely faded last year, an increasing number of Philadelphians re-engaged with activities around the city—commuting to workplaces, resuming indoor dining at restaurants, and attending concerts around town, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ annual “State of the City” report, created from data gathered by its Philadelphia research and policy initiative.
The city’s annual unemployment rate—which had been over 12% in 2020 and around 9% in 2021—fell to 5.9%, and total jobs surpassed their pre-pandemic level as of June 2022. Also, median household income rose to $52,899 in 2021, the last year for which figures were available. This was an increase of 11% from 2019, but with significant disparities by race and ethnicity.
Philadelphia’s finances were in an unexpectedly strong position as well, as the city ended fiscal year 2022 with a $775 million fund balance driven by higher-than-expected revenue and several thousand unfilled city government jobs. And for the first time, the percentage of city residents age 25 or older with a college degree matched the national rate of 35%, promising a workforce with more schooling.
Nonetheless, Philadelphians had any number of worries on their minds, including a slowing economy, increasing housing costs, lingering inflation, and a stubbornly high poverty rate. Most of all, they worried about gun violence and a high level of crime. A January 2023 poll by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism found that 89% of residents said crime is the top issue facing Philadelphia. And 65% of residents thought the city was going in the wrong direction.
More broadly, Pew’s report found that the city’s count of major crimes, which include both violent crimes and property crimes, rose to the highest level since 2006. In a single year, auto thefts increased by 30%, commercial burglaries by 40%, and retail thefts by 52%.
Many residents throughout Philadelphia also struggled to find suitable housing at an affordable price. Nearly 49% of the city’s households were spending at least 30% of their income on rent, making them “cost burdened,” according to the standard set by the U.S. Census Bureau. Households in parts of West and North Philadelphia had the highest share of cost-burdened renters as well as some of the greatest increases in median residential home sale prices over the past 10 years.
To mark the release of its 15th annual “State of the City” report and the organization’s 75th anniversary, Pew co-hosted a public conversation in April with The Lenfest Institute for Journalism that focused on critical issues facing the city, the need for greater equity, and visions for the future.
Pew 75th Anniversary Event Highlights Democracy
For much of its history—this spring marked 75 years of operation—The Pew Charitable Trusts has sought to bolster democracy and ensure that the public’s voice is heard. So as part of its anniversary celebrations, Pew held panel discussions with keen observers of democracy in its Washington, D.C., office.
In opening remarks for the event, titled “Strengthening Democracy in America,” Pew’s president and CEO, Susan K. Urahn, explained why the organization’s fact-based work is so important in today’s fractured political landscape.
“I have seen how facts can become a common language that helps people with disparate viewpoints communicate with each other,” Urahn said. “That’s why nonpartisanship is the cornerstone of everything that we do.”
Urahn then sat down with Carla Hayden, the 14th librarian of Congress, to discuss the importance of informed citizens and the role of libraries in American society. Hayden, the first woman and first African American to lead the national library, has called libraries “bastions of equal opportunity.”
Hayden explained that she is a believer in the power of storytelling to bring people together, and that libraries offer a special place for that. “History is storytelling,” she said. “You get to see what someone else might have felt or feels.”
Hayden and Urahn also discussed how libraries are an important and open place for discussion about different ideas. “When libraries are challenged, when there is a move to close libraries, you are closing access,” Hayden said. “And in many communities, that’s the only access point.”
A second panel discussed the challenges facing democracy via a conversation between filmmaker Ken Burns and Pew Research Center President Michael Dimock that was moderated by Beverly Kirk, professor of practice and director of Washington programs at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Dimock shared new findings from the Center showing that 77% of Americans expect the nation to be more politically divided at the century’s midpoint than it is today.
“Since the mid-1990s, pretty much every American election has been about the balance of power, and that makes every election feel existential when you think the other side not only disagrees with you on issues but will actually damage the country if they can hold the levers of power,” Dimock said.
Given those findings, Kirk suggested that local news sources could be a place to build common ground. “People do trust their local news sources much more than they trust other media outlets,” she said. “And I think that’s a great place to talk about rebuilding trust.”
Dimock noted that although technology can sometimes be a tool in spreading misinformation, it can be “deeply empowering for people to find their own communities” and is helping people build community.
Burns agreed, saying that individuals can build community through sharing their experiences. “The novelist Richard Powers says the best arguments in the world won’t change a single person’s point of view,” he said. “The only thing that can do that is a good story.” He went on to say he thinks the U.S. is in a “fourth crisis” on par with the Civil War, Great Depression, and World War II—but stressed that “we can learn from those times of consequential challenges and come together again.”
In closing, the panel discussed some signs of optimism for the future of democracy. “We’re looking at civic participation at levels that are just unbelievable—the last election, the midterm election, and who’s voting,” Burns said. “In some ways, that might be a silver lining.”
The event had an in-person and online audience of more than 1,000 leaders in government, business, and nonprofits, as well as other community members throughout the nation.
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