Biosphere Reserve in Mexico Earns Validation from Two Global Carbon Market Standards

July 26, 2011

Local Farmers Benefit from Reforestation Project Validated by the Rainforest Alliance

After 15 years of hard work and innovation, a conservation project in Mexico’s Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve has become the first in the country to receive validation under two emerging global carbon market standards designed to ensure ecological integrity and benefits for communities. Officially dubbed “Carbon Sequestration in Communities of Extreme Poverty in the Sierra Gorda of Mexico,” the project has been validated under both the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standard -- a clear demonstration of the role that carbon projects can play in the restoration of protected areas and the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods.

Launched in 1997 by Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, I.A.P, and now operated by Bosque Sustentable, A.C., it is one of the first conservation projects to look beyond traditional philanthropy to financing methods that earn income by planting trees and absorbing carbon dioxide to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Forest Trends, an international organization focused on ecosystem markets, supported the project’s design and validation through its Katoomba Incubator, while the Rainforest Alliance was the organization that carried out the external validation.

“Validation under these standards demonstrates the integrity of Sierra Gorda’s offsets and the overall value of the efforts to restore ecosystems, preserve biodiversity, alleviate poverty and sequester carbon in the reserve,” said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, which was the first donor for carbon offsets under this project. Wirth plans to travel to Sierra Gorda later this year to celebrate the validation.

The project involves the establishment of small reforestations by farmers in the reserve and its area of influence to help combat climate change while providing benefits to local communities and helping to conserve biodiversity. It is part of a larger effort to restore lands and improve farmers’ livelihoods in one of Mexico’s most exceptional protected areas. The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves, is the most ecosystem-diverse protected area in Mexico and ranks second in the country in terms of overall biodiversity.

“These validations are an international recognition of the reforestation work being done by the farmers of the Sierra Gorda,” said Martha Isabel “Pati” Ruiz Corzo, general director of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. “It is a very important step forward in our work to provide alternatives for local farmers and strengthen the economy of conservation in the Sierra Gorda.” While this project involves tree planting, the Sierra Gorda organizations are also pioneering efforts to develop ecosystem markets for other ecological values of the Sierra, which acts as a massive water filter for downstream areas and supports valuable biodiversity.

Bosque Sustentable monitors the reforestations to quantify the amount of carbon dioxide being captured as part of the natural process of tree growth. Bosque Sustentable then offers “carbon offsets” in national and international voluntary carbon markets. Organizations, businesses and individuals who want to contribute to the fight against climate change can calculate the amount of global warming gases that they emit into the atmosphere as a result of their production processes or use of transportation and electricity. After reducing their emissions to the maximum extent possible, they can choose to offset their remaining emissions by making a donation to Bosque Sustentable, which in turn pays small farmers to plant and manage trees to capture a corresponding amount of carbon dioxide.

“This is a major milestone for Sierra Gorda, which has been a pioneer in the voluntary offsets market for many years and now has the independent validation that confirms the solid technical design and carbon accounting behind their reforestation efforts,” said Jacob Olander of Forest Trends.

A unique feature of this project is that it involves large numbers of small reforestations, including reforestations as small as .5 hectare, which are scattered throughout the rugged mountains of the Sierra Gorda. This minimum reforestation size, much smaller than a typical forest carbon project, allows the Sierra Gorda project to involve individual farmers in conditions of poverty in very remote areas. Through 2013, the project is expected to include a total of 289 small reforestations with a total of 305.7 hectares.

“The Bosque Sustentable project represents a forest carbon project of the highest quality,” said Jeff Hayward, director of the Climate Program of the Rainforest Alliance. “It offers significant benefits to both local communities and biodiversity in addition to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration in the growth of planted trees. This project will serve as a model for the development of future small-scale forest carbon projects in Mexico and internationally.”

The Verified Carbon Standard is the leading standard in the international voluntary carbon market for the quantification of climate change benefits, while the Climate, Community and Biodiversity project standards ensure that carbon projects also produce benefits for local communities and biodiversity.

The first validation of a carbon project in Mexico to these standards is especially significant because Mexico is likely to be the first country encompassed for offsets under any US state or federal system, and because there is rapidly growing interest within Mexico in carbon offsets as part of its own climate commitments and from an increasingly active domestic voluntary market. For more information about the variety of ecosystem services projects being implemented in the Sierra Gorda and about how to use Sierra Gorda carbon offsets, please visit www.sierragorda.net.

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