Americas Flyways Initiative: birds, game-changers for saving nature

The initiative will identify at least 30 critical landscapes and seascapes along the Americas flyways for urgent conservation, restoration, and management by local partners, communities, and indigenous peoples.

Montreal, December 16, 2022 --- There are at least 559 Latin American and Caribbean bird species at risk of extinction. Unfortunately, since 1970, North America has lost 3 billion birds. As indicators of the health of our environment, their decline is proof positive of the significant threats destroying biodiversity and the habitats shared by birds and people. Integrating our work across borders and along flyways is essential to ensure birds' survival and the future of millions of people in the hemisphere.

The Americas Flyways Initiative is a hemispheric response and alliance of BirdLife International, the National Audubon Society, and CAF (Development Bank of Latin America) to effectively address the urgent biodiversity loss and climate change crises through concrete scaled-up nature and community-based solutions. The alliance, announced today at the Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal, represents an unprecedented investment in bird and biodiversity conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Effective responses to biodiversity loss and climate change challenges have been urgently demanded at both COP15, and the recent Climate Change COP27 held in Egypt.

These three leading institutions are partnering to develop an initiative to identify over thirty critical landscapes and seascapes along the Americas flyways for urgent conservation, restoration, and management by local partners, communities, and indigenous peoples. America's flyways cover North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, extending across 35 countries, from the Arctic Circle in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south.

This initiative builds on the groundbreaking foundation launched in 2021 by BirdLife International, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership. The Americas hold three of the eight major migratory bird flyways in the world, which makes this region pivotal to planetary biodiversity and climate change response. Nevertheless, stopover and wintering sites are disappearing at an alarming pace along these routes.

"Birds are found in nearly every habitat on Earth, connecting people with nature," said Elizabeth Gray, CEO of the National Audubon Society. "The same birds that captivate people in the northern stretches of the Americas each summer often travel vast distances to delight birdwatchers in South America each winter. Our Alliance aims to protect the vital flyways they use to traverse the continent while at the same time mobilizing people across the Americas to conserve the places we all need to survive."

Beyond borders and sectoral silos

Collaboration between the public and private sectors is key to strengthening climate action and building long-term sustainable development. The Americas Flyways Initiative proposes a unique impactful approach to biodiversity conservation by integrating and scaling up nature-based climate solutions through major economic development projects designed to include safeguards across a network of critical habitats for declining populations of shared migratory birds throughout the Americas.

Audubon and BirdLife International will use advanced scientific and digital technologies to select sites, programs, and landscapes crucial for biodiversity conservation, and community development as investment areas. They will also add their network of on-the-ground implementation capacity and communications capabilities. CAF brings its vast experience in sustainable development models and projects' technical and financial structuring as part of its commitment to become the region's green bank by financing climate and biodiversity-friendly projects.

Innovative funding mechanisms from private and public sources will support this initiative. It is a first step towards having integrated flyway-wide conservation, communications, monitoring, and the governance needed to fully support hemispheric conservation at scale for the benefit of birds, biodiversity, nature, and people.ç

"Our flyways initiatives are practical. It is now beyond having more discussions. It is about implementing and putting concrete, verifiable action behind words. We believe in sustainable development based on birds as indicators. We must mobilize serious amounts of money if we are to have a serious impact," said Patricia Zurita, BirdLfe International CEO. "That is why we are talking about mobilizing as much as ten billion dollars between the two flyways in the next twenty years. We are committed to finance for nature that generates jobs, creates climate resilience, and enables nature to be healthy and sustainable. As we learn a lot from our experience in Asia, we are continuously innovating. The fact that we have the commitments of two regional banks is profoundly important."

Why birds?

Birds tell us that our survival depends on a hemispheric solution to mitigate the effects of climate change and address the biodiversity loss crisis. They are one of the best indicator species for the health of nature: severe declines in bird numbers are an early and grim warning about current and future threats biodiversity and people will face.

According to The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 43% by 2030. In parallel, because of human pressures, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years, as the UN has stated. This variety of living species makes up the safety net supporting human life on Earth, providing food, clean water, air, energy, and building resilience to climate change impacts.

The birds lost are not just threatened or endangered migratory species but common and endemic birds. Massive biodiversity loss is at our doorstep. From more frequent and intense fires in California to the loss of snowpacks and glaciers in the Andes, severe droughts in Chile and Peru, an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes in the Caribbean, and the ravaging growth of savannahs in the Amazon, communities, and people are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change and the destruction of nature.

Our collective scientific and innovative financing models will empower conservation actions linking breeding, stopover, and wintering sites, and identify priority sites for birds overlaid with Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). People-responsive solutions will range from agroforestry in rural agricultural areas to green infrastructure driving coastal resilience in urban cities.

"The partnership represents the greatest investment ever in bird conservation in Latin America and the Caribbean and will contribute to integrating the region, countries, and communities, from south to north, and migratory birds and their flyways will allow us to bring together all the needed elements. This is one of our flagship initiatives to advance our goal of becoming the green bank of Latin America and the Caribbean", said Sergio Díaz-Granados, Executive President of CAF.

We have seen the incredible connection birds can make and how they bring together people, communities, and efforts from a growing and wide variety of public, multilateral, and private organizations that understand the crucial moment biodiversity and the future of humanity are facing.  Now, for the first time in the Western Hemisphere, an initiative addresses systematic issues that affect migratory bird conservation. The Americas Flyways Initiative represents a genuine shift in the approach to sustainable development and biodiversity protection. By bringing in the necessary resources and technical know-how, we will respond to this pressing challenge.

Together, we are building the roadmap that reverses the immense loss of birds and biodiversity in the hemisphere. The ambition of the Americas Flyways Initiative and of those who value the joy of local and migratory birds is to bring back hope for the new generations.