Mexico Going Green
When looking at the remarkably complex world of carbon offset, REDD+, sustainable forestry and natural resource management, Mexico is emerging as one of the world’s leading open-air laboratories.
After all, this is a place where the tides of revolution have become institutional realities, where large organizations like the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) are pioneering new ways to bring REDD+ into the mainstream. It is a place with a complex and nuanced socio-economic context, where the poorest 40 per cent of the rural population live on just US$652 a year (despite a national average of nearly US$9000), and where deforestation, vulnerability to climate change and natural resource management issues are making it to the front burner of the national agenda.
With all this in mind – and with an eye on building our collective wisdom that will advance the new Community Forestry Project in the Southern States of Campeche, Chiapas and Oaxaca – we brought thought leaders from CONAFOR and the Tropical Center for Agricultural Investigation and Education (CATIE) to IFAD headquarters for a meeting tackling contemporary issues on sustainable forestry management. The goal was simple – learn from the lessons of Mexico and see if we can’t apply them elsewhere – the outcomes were far more complex.
What is a REDD+ and how do I get one?
Kicking off the meeting, Bastiaan Louman, Leader of CATIE’s Climate Change Programme, highlighted some key challenges, trends and opportunities for the implementation of REDD+ initiatives. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of clear agreement on how REDD+ should be identified, how it can be implemented on a local scale, and how something originally introduced “as a cheap way to reduce emissions” under the Stern Report some five years ago, is now becoming more nuanced and “not so cheap.”
REDD+ at a glance – “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. “REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” – UN REDD Program
So what are the causes of deforestation? According to Louman, money is key (isn’t it always?). First off, we can use the distance to markets as a good measuring stick for the level of forest degradation. The closer to market the greater the degradation. Or, if you are a glass-half-full kind of guy, the further from the market, the less the degradation.
Migration, access to technology (or lack thereof), land rights and cultural contexts are other key factors. And in many cases, it is a simple question of equity. “If you do not have rights to the land, you are probably not taking care of the forest,” said Bastiaan.
Another key barometer is the level of biomass in any given area. And this is where large institutions like CONAFOR come in handy. With excellent data and a sophisticated inventory of national forestry stocks, CONAFOR is able to provide the baseline data we need to ensure that our carbon-offset efforts are actually creating a positive impact – talk about finally seeing the forest for the trees.
But in the end, it’s possible that REDD+ will fail, especially if we continue to ignore local perceptions, expectations and opportunity costs. The key, says Bastiaan, is looking at other factors like off-farm employment, agricultural prices, road density and local governance for the answers.
This said, the emergence of carbon-markets could very well raise land rents, meaning we need strong organizations, simple monitoring mechanisms and integrated projects that aim at reducing transactional costs, increasing efficiencies and building local access to carbon offset markets. In the end, this will ensure that the little man doesn’t lose out.
So just how much is a forest worth?
The days of high-riding carbon cowboys (dressed in green rather than black) are gone, with carbon offsets dropping from a high of roughly US$20 per tonne to just $2 to $4 per tonne these days. Though some indicators point toward higher prices by the end of the decade, the market remains wildly unstable and needs solid regulation, says Bastiaan. We also need projects that create diverse economic activities that extend beyond the simple pay-to-keep-each-tree-standing model to one that embraces sustainable forestry and land management practices.
This is where projects like the recently signed Community Forestry Development Program come in, says Ladislao Rubio, IFAD’s Country Program Manager for Mexico. The regional context is an important outlying factor in this regards. In Mexico – remember, it’s a place that institutionalized a revolution, witnessed widespread land reform initiatives and yet continues to suffer from eye-popping inequalities – around 80 per cent of the land is held in legally-recognized communal land holdings (ejidos and comunidades). Engaging with the leadership within these communal holdings is key to protecting Mexico’s forests, creating sustainable opportunities within the green spaces, and promoting poverty reduction among the poor rural people. In the end, these are key protectors of Mexico’s biodiversity and forests.
So what is CONAFOR doing to manage Mexico’s forests and mainstream REDD+ initiatives?
Of course, there’s the US$5 million in earmarked grants from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that are set to be folded into the Community Forestry Development Program and will be a key component of Mexico’s REDD+ strategy in southern Mexico. The new funding is designed to reduce greenhouse emissions and provide project participants with the skills and resources they need to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Aside from that, it’s about strengthening conservation practices, especially within the ejidos and comunidades. According to Salvador Anta Fonseca, Manager of Community Forestry for CONAFOR, Mexico has around 8 million hectares of forests being managed through their institution, there are an additional 13 million hectares of protected areas, and some 2 million hectares of forest with some sort of payment-for-environmental-services system. They are primarily steering funds toward sustainable forest development through the national ProÁrbol program, which leverages public funds to pay for environmental services, value-chain work, education and training, technological development, and conservation and restoration.
Looking at the work of ProÁrbol, it’s easy to see the obvious overlap and synergies with the goals of REDD+. In fact, in November 2009, the Mexican government started work on their new vision for implementing REDD+ goals in Mexico. This work will include tried-and-true methodologies that look at social inclusion and sustainability, also focusing down on creating incentives (both economic and non-economic) to control deforestation and ensure better natural resource management practices in the future. This includes the strengthening of local economies, equitable distribution of benefits and opportunities, reforestation activities and the strengthening of social and productive infrastructure, and work to reduce social conflicts and illegal activities in the nation’s forest areas.
More importantly, most of this work will happen on the ejido (communal level), ensuring that the protectors of our world’s forests have an equitable stake in keeping our planet green.