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.

By Felicia Line, CarbonPlus Field Coordinator

This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace, and is re-posted here with permission. View the original here.

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”.

Community brigades measure forest carbon in Mexico

A local community brigade is trained to measure carbon stored n trees in Chiapas, Mexico. (Photo: Carlos Herrera)

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.

Read more about how local people are key to saving Mexico’s rainforests.

Fighting Climate Change and Saving Forests Doesn’t Mean Ignoring Indigenous Rights

With the COP21 international climate talks in Paris rapidly approaching, Mexico merits attention. In March, Mexico made news by becoming the first developing country to commit to reducing its carbon footprint at a national level ahead of the upcoming talks—including an ambitious goal to bring deforestation rates to zero by 2030.

These latest commitments aren’t the first time Mexico has been a step ahead of much of the world on climate. In 2010, Mexico released a vision document laying groundwork for a national strategy for REDD+—a United Nations program that stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.”

Carbon Brigade in Chiapas measures trees

Community members in Chiapas learn how to measure carbon stored in trees (Photo: Felicia Line)

Read more about how EcoLogic is using people-powered conservation to help Mexico meet its climate goals!

Stove By Stove, Tree By Tree in Chinantla, Mexico

The quiet, tiny community of San Bernabé in the Chinantla region of Oaxaca, Mexico, feels like a world away from the city of Tuxtepec. Yet the bustling municipality is barely an hour away. On the winding drive from the city to San Bernabé, urban development and industry give way to a forested landscape dotted with small, rural homes and subsistence farm plots so rapidly that the transition feels jarring—blink, and you’re in a profoundly different place. “There’s such an isolation to these communities,” Sam Schofield, EcoLogic’s Program Officer for Institutional Development, reflected after a visit to the area.

Women in Oaxaca cooking tortillas on an EcoLogic stove

Women in San Bernabé cook handmade tortillas on an EcoLogic fuel-efficient stove (Photo: Alstom Foundation)

Read more updates from the ground at EcoLogic’s project in Oaxaca!

In Mexico, Putting Carbon in Local Hands

By giving local indigenous people a seat at the table, we’re helping make an international climate change mitigation program more effective in Mexico.

By Felicia Line, CarbonPlus Field Coordinator

Community brigades were trained to monitor carbon stored in forests in the Lacandón Jungle, in Chiapas.

Community brigades were trained to monitor carbon stored in forests in the Lacandón Jungle, in Chiapas.

If you ask about what REDD+ is in the Lacandón Jungle in Chiapas, Mexico, you might get a range of answers. Some people will think you’re talking about the Red Cross, while others say that it refers to a giant net (“red” means “net” in Spanish) that will descend over the jungle to protect it. In other words, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about what REDD+ entails and how it could work—not just in the Lacandón Jungle, but in other areas of Mexico and the world.

Read more about how we are helping communities fight climate change in the forests of southern Mexico!