Carbon Accounting on Behalf of Ancient Forests

Located in the heart of Mesoamerica’s second largest tropical forest, the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) is home to several thousand people, as well as jaguars, pumas, ocelots, monkeys, macaws, and scores of rare tree species. The reserve, established by the Guatemalan government in 1990, spans nearly 5.2 million acres (2.1 million hectares) and also includes the ancient Maya city of Tikal.

Yet despite its protected status, the reserve’s pristine forests are imperiled by agricultural conversion, illegal cattle ranching, hunting, drug trafficking, and other unsanctioned activities. To fight these threats, the Rainforest Alliance and our partners in the region have been working since 2005 to build a thriving network of community forestry enterprises that provide sustainable economic opportunities to those who live in and around the reserve.

Two young men measure a tree as part of the GuateCarbon project in Guatemala.

Two young men measure a tree as part of the GuateCarbon project in Guatemala.

Photo credit: Charlie Watson

GuateCarbon, a partnership between the government, local forest communities, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, exemplifies our innovative, market-based strategy for fighting deforestation. The forest-carbon project promotes sustainable community forestry and development through the sale of carbon credits on the international market. After having the baseline measurement for greenhouse emissions approved in 2015—a critical milestone—the forest communities that have partnered with the government to sustainably manage the reserve are poised to earn payments for emissions they have avoided through their sustainable management of 1.6 million acres (about 660,800 hectares) of forest.

"The additional revenue will help us improve forest management and conduct surveillance to stop illegal logging and control forest fires."

Arturo Sánchez, a member of the Árbol Verde community forest concession

“The additional revenue will help us improve forest management and conduct surveillance to stop illegal logging and control forest fires,” says Arturo Sánchez, a member of the Árbol Verde community forest concession. “We will also be able to conduct ongoing monitoring to assess forest cover and examine the impacts of our work.”

The project is part of our longstanding and highly successful strategy of using sustainable community forestry to reduce deforestation rates in the area to nearly zero. A 2015 study co-authored by the Rainforest Alliance established that the deforestation rate in the Forest Stewardship Council-certified community forestry concessions was nearly zero, as compared to an annual deforestation rate of 1.2 percent in the MBR overall and 5.5 percent in the reserve’s buffer zones. “These practices represent the state of the art for conservation,” says Bryan Finegan, a forest ecologist at CATIE, the international research institute in Costa Rica that led the study. “It’s a model for the world.”

This article originally appeared in the 2015 Annual Report.

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