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Homegrown Expertise Could Be the Missing Link to Saving Mexico’s Largest Intact Rainforest


Homegrown Expertise Could Be the Missing Link to Saving Mexico’s Largest Intact Rainforest

Mexico aims to slow climate change by saving its forests – an approach that’s traditionally meant good work for external companies who know how to measure the carbon content of trees. But Felicia Line of EcoLogic says locals can handle the job even better.

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

8 September 2015 | Calakmul | Campeche | MEXICO | Sara Camacho and her two-man team had been leading their brigades, made up of local community members, into the forest for weeks, leaving at dawn and returning at dusk, mosquito-bitten, snake-bitten and – in the case of team member Yoni Sima – feverish on the night I met them, but full of bonhomie.

“I’m starting to feel like I’m married to you guys,” joked Camacho, a fireplug of a woman in her mid-20s who Sima and their third colleague, the burly Manuel Arana, address with affection as la jefa – “the boss lady”.

The three young mestizos had come to the old Mayan district of Calakmul to help marginalized communities learn how to measure the carbon stored in their forest – a task that requires identifying the forest’s trees by species, measuring their circumference, estimating their height, and then applying formulas to determine their biomass, half of which is carbon. If they get the species wrong, the carbon inventory will be off even if the measurements are right. And the same thing will happen if they get the species right but are sloppy about their measurements. Such errors could accumulate to add more uncertainty to the already difficult science of measuring carbon in forests, which is critical in efforts to slow climate change and earn international funding for REDD+, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

Manual Arana teaches villagers how to use a clinometer to estimate the height of trees.

Manuel Arana teaches students how to use a GPS to identify the right coordinates for the monitoring site. Photo credit: Carlos Herrera

Because of the high stakes, governments like Mexico’s have traditionally hired expensive companies to do the whole country’s forest and soils inventory; but those countries often lack specific local knowledge, and this has resulted in at least a few inventories listing species that aren’t found anywhere in the country of Mexico, let alone in the state of Campeche, according to Eduardo Martinez and Ligia Esparza.

Ligia Esparza teaches at the local postgraduate university, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, and Eduardo Martinez is the president of a local NGO, Sur Verde A.C. They spearheaded the effort that brought Camacho, Sima and Arana here – for reasons that Sima articulates perfectly.

“We don’t need to hire external people,” he says. “People who live in the forests can do the monitoring themselves.”

For Camacho, there was even more to prove.

“Machismo is a big challenge, as women traditionally have only worked at home,” she says. “Now that we teach others, this is proof to other women that everyone is capable of doing fieldwork.”

She’s part of a “train the trainers” initiative that Martinez and Esparza spearheaded with funding from Governor’s Climate and Forest Fund, coordinated by EcoLogic Development Fund. I was put in charge of coordinating state efforts between Chiapas and Campeche, working together with state governments, local scientists, communities, the National Forestry Commission, FAO and UNDP in order to work out ways to measure forests at the state level – an intermediary level between the national and local level.

Training the Trainers

Camacho and Sima came here by way of university, where they earned formal forestry engineering degrees and then applied it in the field. Arana, however, picked up his knowledge of the forest while working as a technician making forest fire defenses, and then later with forestry scientists. Now all three are sharing that knowledge with marginalized communities in the rainforest – delivering in the process opportunities of temporary employment, and helping to raise awareness about forest conservation among community brigades in Calakmul, which is the largest area of conserved rainforest left in Mexico.

Sara Camacho (left) explains the importance of measuring trees at the right height. Photo credit: Carlos Herrera

Sara Camacho (left) explains the importance of measuring trees at the right height. Photo credit: Carlos Herrera

That puts them on the front lines of Mexico’s efforts to slow climate change, because a large part of those efforts are built on saving the country’s forests. It is estimated that roughly half of all the country’s tropical rainforest and 20% of its pine forest is in areas occupied by 52 indigenous peoples, many of whom depend on them for their well-being, according to the country’s draft National REDD+ Strategy.

Jobs for Women and Youths

Calakmul covers almost 4 million hectares of semi-evergreen rainforest, and the region boasts models of sustainable community forest management that have certified and exported wood, charcoal, cocoa, honey and even chewing gum to other parts of Mexico and abroad.

The region is known for its Mayan heritage, but people here come from all across Mexico, and many were displaced during the Zapatista Revolution. I had a chance to speak with several community members with indigenous descent from Chiapas, and they told stories of how their parents or grandparents moved to Campeche in search of new land. People from this region are very hard-working and highly value their forest – many of them mentioned how they have seen in Chiapas what deforestation and degradation does to their livelihoods and why the environmental services the forests give are so important.

“The role of involving young people from the communities in the monitoring of the forests is crucial,” says Esparza. “They have lived through the conflicts in their communities, so they can contribute to clear up misunderstandings and inform their community in a precise way about the natural resources they have. They can also present information in a common language that can be useful for their community and not just present a graph or leave a thesis.”

For Camacho, there’s the added incentive to provide jobs for women, even though many husbands don’t grant their wives permission to work. Still, there is one woman in their class of roughly a dozen technician trainees. Her name is Horencia Rivera Mexicano, a single mother who has enjoyed the fieldwork so much that she has decided to apply for a scholarship to study a forestry degree.

Deeper Understanding of the Forest

Sima says that he learned more about the forest in the field than he did at university, where he earned a postgraduate degree in forest engineering. But he also knows that outside knowledge has its place, and he believes that technicians and community members can work well together with a mutually beneficial relationship. Technicians, for example, can gain access to areas that they wouldn’t normally have permission to enter, and they can generate a source of training and temporary employment for people in communities.

Yoni Sima (center right, in green shirt) explains the fine art of measuring trees. Photo credit: Carlos Herrera

Yoni Sima (far right, in blue shirt) explains the fine art of measuring trees. Photo credit: Carlos Herrera

As proof, he points to Arana’s sense of the terrain. Although not as formally educated as the other two, he can identify roughly 90% of the species in Calakmul by sight and can estimate tree heights almost as accurately as a clinometer.

And there is plenty of work to do. Mexico boasts one of the best National Forest and Soils Inventories in the world, with measurements from more than 1 billion trees from 81,665 sites all over Mexico. It’s also a main source of information for determining the amount of carbon that is stored in the country’s forests, and it was used alongside other information sources to calculate Mexico’s National Emissions Reference Scenario to report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

However, this information will have to be improved and filtered with the help of communities and local scientists that have access to more local information that will help compliment national databases.

Next Week: Communities in Jurisdictional REDD

In the second installment, we examine the role that forest communities can play in developing Mexico’s jurisdictional REDD strategy.

Felicia Line is a Field Coordinator in nonprofit EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus program. She coordinates and supervises field and desk activities related to the REDD+ initiative with the Governors’ Climate and Forest Fund in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Jalisco, Tabasco and Quintana Roo in southern Mexico.

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China's Big Plans For Forests And Climate Change


China's Big Plans For Forests And Climate Change

China’s national climate action plan will drive down emissions in part by ramping up the country’s already massive tree-planting programs. But scientists are still haggling over how ambitious to call the land-use target. China released the plan this week.

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

1 July 2015 |
China will increase its forest stock by 4.5 billion cubic meters by 2030 if the country meets its proposed climate plan, released this week to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The plan, known in climate negotiator speak as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or “INDC”, lays out the country’s intention to peak its greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2030 while making “best efforts to peak early.”

China’s commitment sets a year – 2030 – by which the country’s annual emissions must end their upward creep, but it doesn’t specify the altitude of this emissions summit – though multiple projections suggest it will likely be around 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). In a “business as usual” scenario, researchers predict that China’s emissions would peak sometime between 2030 and 2040, between 12 billion and 14 billion tonnes, according to the World Resources Institute.

The emissions reductions goal was no surprise, since China’s INDC mirrored its half of the historic agreement it struck with the United States in November. But the target of lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% under 2005 levels was new, as was the specific target on forests.

China’s INDC states that the country aims to “vigorously enhance afforestation, promoting voluntary tree planting by all citizens” while reducing “deforestation-related” emissions.

Forest and land use experts were tentatively excited about the inclusion of land-use in China’s INDC, though they’re still trying to parse out what exactly the tree-planting goal means.

“I was happy to see the INDC mention reducing the impacts of natural disturbances and improving their measurement methodologies over time,” said Pipa Elias, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy.

Under the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, China set a goal of lowering carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels, in part by bumping up the country’s forested area by 40 million hectares and increasing the forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters. According to its climate plan, as of 2014 China was well on its way to meeting this land-use goal, with 21.6 million hectares reforested.

However, the INDC does not specify the hectare equivalence of the new 4.5-billion-cubic-meters target, and presumably some of this increase would occur in a “business as usual” scenario as the forests that have already been planted grow. Scientists are still doing the math on additionality, but the sense so far is that the commitment does indeed go beyond the Copenhagen Accord – the question is by how much.

China’s land-use sector is already a net carbon sink domestically, but its consumers’ demand for agricultural commodities is putting pressure on tropical forests in Brazil, Indonesia, Myanmar, and many other countries. China purchases 60% of the soy and 34% of the leather produced by tropical forest countries, according to the Forest 500, a project that ranks governments and companies on ‘forest-risk’ commodities. These Chinese imports are often produced at the expense of forests elsewhere.

Doug Boucher, Director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the presence of land-sector actions in China’s INDC is a good thing, but the country could and should also pay more attention to its domestic agricultural sector.

“Despite China’s progress with land sector emissions, its agricultural emissions are the largest in the world,” he said in a statement. “There is ample scope for China to curb agricultural emissions, particularly nitrous oxide from excessive fertilizer use and methane from rice production.”

China’s INDC does aim for “zero growth” in fertilizer and pesticide use by 2020.

“It is critical for countries like China to increase the efficiency of their agricultural systems to reduce the climate impact of growing food, but do so in a way that generates positive environmental and social outcomes,” said Elias.

China currently has seven jurisdictional carbon markets and plans to launch a national cap-and-trade program in 2016 that would be second in size only to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. Offsets from non-regulated sectors, known as Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions, are used to cover 5-10% of compliance entities’ emissions obligations in the pilot programs – a mechanism that will likely be carried over to the national program. Four new CCER methodologies target emissions from forestry and land use.

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Indigenous People Build Fund For Direct Access To Climate Finance


Indigenous People Build Fund For Direct Access To Climate Finance

Hundreds of millions of dollars in climate finance have been pledged to helping indigenous people manage their territories, but all of that money is currently trapped in intermediaries. Here's how the Amazon's largest federation of indigenous organizations aims to change that.

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

24 June 2015 | BONN/BARCELONA | Indigenous leader Juan Carlos Jintiach says he was ecstatic when governments around the world pledged $1 billion to end deforestation at last year's climate summit in New York. He especially liked Norway's pledge of $20 million per year to help indigenous people secure their rights. But he also knew what would happen next, as NGOs around the world quickly submitted proposals, and Norway issued a short-list of 53 finalists.

"In the end, only five indigenous organizations were invited to present final proposals," says Jintiach, who at the time had just stepped down as Director for Economic Development of pan-Amazonian indigenous federation COICA.

"That's how it always is," he says. "We'll be talking to governments directly, and asking them why they always have these bilateral government-to-government discussions, and then we'll see $100 million change hands, and we'll say, 'What's that for?', and they'll say, 'That's for indigenous people.'"

 Left-to-Right: Juan-Carlos Jintiach (COICA), Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje (COICA), Josien Tokoe (COICA), and Estebancio Castro Diaz (International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of Tropical Forests) at climate talks in Bonn

Left-to-Right: Juan-Carlos Jintiach (COICA), Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje (COICA), Josien Tokoe (COICA), and Estebancio Castro Diaz (International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of Tropical Forests) at climate talks in Bonn.

Chris Meyer of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says that at least $50 million in funding linked to reduced deforestation or "REDD+ finance" has already been allocated for indigenous people, but it's in limbo, scattered among the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the UN-REDD Program, and the Forest Investment Program – and that's after he deducts 20% for administration and overhead.

"It's not that the programs are doing anything nefarious," he says. "It's just that they're bureaucratic and need to see a lot of things happen before they can release money."

"I understand their reasoning," says Jintiach. "They can't just dump a bunch of money on us – I understand the need for accountability – but I think we can deliver that accountability."

The Birth of the Indigenous Amazon Fund

In the last few years of his tenure, Jintiach had a front-row seat at the "grant games", as COICA teamed up with NGOs like EDF, Woods Hole Research Center, and even Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends to secure direct funding from large donors like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is supporting COICA and a consortium of NGOs (including Forest Trends) under a program called AIME, which among other things helps indigenous people position themselves for REDD+ finance.

Current COICA director Edwin Vásquez Campos has been working to ready the organization and its members for REDD+ finance, and at mid-year climate talks in Bonn, COICA's head of Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity, Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, announced the creation of an Indigenous Amazon Fund, which is the brainchild of COICA consultant Roberto Espinoza and is designed to act as a kind of central bank for indigenous people across the Amazon.

Two weeks later, Campos announced that COICA would also seek to establish a more forceful presence in multilateral organizations like the Governors' Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force, which is a network of subnational governments and governors working to address climate-change multilaterally.

At the GCF annual meeting in Barcelona, COICA was joined by Central America's AMPB, the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.

"We're at the Table"

"We believe we share many common characteristics and core beliefs with the jurisdictions represented in the GCF," the AMPB declaration stated. "We actively participate in the region´s REDD+ processes, emphasizing the importance of community forest rights, and offering our experiences as key lessons and cornerstones for addressing deforestation in our jurisdictions."

COICA's statement was more prescriptive and called for active indigenous participation in the development of national climate action plans, or INDCs (Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions), and asked for a signed agreement with the GCF recognizing COICA participation in strategic planning and implementation.

The Evolution of the Amazon Indigenous Fund

Jintiach, who now is an analyst in COICA's Economic Development Cooperation, says the Indigenous Amazon Fund is being created based on feedback from donor nations and with support from EDF and other NGOs.

"Juan Carlos raised this issue with us last year, when we were working with him on the indigenous mapping project [which was announced at climate talks in Lima]," says EDF's Meyer. "He's been working with us ever since to see how we implement it, and also talking to donors to get a better feel for what they look for."

The fund proposal will be refined at a series of COICA meetings, beginning in August, but Jintiach and Meyer both say some basic ground-rules have already been established.

"One thing is clear: COICA won't be running it," says Jintiach. "We're spearheading it, but we're not a bank, and we don't want to become one, and donors won't want that, either."

 The Indigenous Amazon Fund is designed to be an independent entity answerable to an outside board of directors

The Indigenous Amazon Fund is designed to be an independent entity answerable to an outside board of directors.

Based on donor feedback, COICA and others are now suggesting the creation of a non-profit entity, with an independent board of directors as well as an advisory board, says Meyer.

"This is still nebulous and to be determined, but there is this window in the next six months for indigenous leaders to consult among themselves and figure out what they want," he says. "With COICA, we need to help to build a lot of capacity to understand how these administrative mechanism funds work, based on existing intermediary funds like Funbio (the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund), and we can then help them create a proposal that's hopefully good enough for Norway to say, 'OK, we're going to put whatever is left [of the $100 million pledged] directly into this indigenous fund, and hopefully get other countries to contribute to it as well.'"

"Once the fund exists, if donors want to give to indigenous peoples, we can say, 'Here is a fund for indigenous peoples,'" says Jintiach. "If they need to see transparency, we can say, 'Here are the books.'"

Beyond REDD+

Although REDD+ finance was the impetus for creating the fund, it's ultimately designed to handle banking, loans, and other financing operations.

"Something like Canopy Bridge, which is a platform for indigenous producers to market their products, could be supported through the fund," says Meyer.

"Exactly," adds Jintiach. "In Ecuador, we developed an indigenous cacao cooperative, but the benefits go to intermediaries, because the banks, they ask for lots of requirements that we as indigenous people find difficult."

He says an Indigenous Amazon Fund would better be able to assess indigenous programs for their viability because it would be run by people who understand indigenous business practices.

"We need a financial institution that understands how our economies work on the ground," he says. "Our people need to develop their own economies."

Jintiach expects to have a formal proposal by the end of August, and Meyer estimates the start-up costs at less than $1 million.

"This is really for the next generation," says Jintiach. "For my generation, this kind of finance was all new to us, but kids today understand its importance. They're the ones who will move this forward."

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Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at szwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com. Kelli Barrett is a freelance writer and editorial assistant at Ecosystem Marketplace. She can be reached at kbarrett@ecosystemmarketplace.com.
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