Sticking out like a thumb extended into the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula is home to the second-most extensive area of tropical forest in the entire world (the Amazon rainforest is of course the largest by far). Fed by rains and its famed network of underground freshwater aquifers – which reach the surface in the form of “cenotes” – the Yucatan’s tropical forests sustain a wealth of life and biodiversity. Among the myriad forms of flora and fauna, many of which are unique and found only here, it’s the home of what remains of the Maya Indians and traditional Mayan language and culture.
Spurred by federal government initiatives, the Yucatan today offers a uniquely Mexican perspective on sustainable development that also may serve as a crucible and model for communities and regions around the world looking to strike a healthier, more sustainably constructive balance between economic livelihood, natural resource use and conserving biodiversity.
Mexico: forests, wetlands, conservation, development and the Ejido System
The Mexican government is taking steps, albeit too slow and halting for some, to redress the economic development-environmental imbalances that have been building up as population and corresponding pressure on natural resources and biodiversity grow. The June enactment of national climate change legislation is one example. Included are long-term targets for reducing fossil fuel use and making much greater use of renewable energy. Another example dates further back.
Working with local organizations and the international community, the Mexican government’s now endeavoring to take stock of the carbon that’s being stored in protected, managed and communal areas of the Yucatan’s extensive tropical forests. The Mexican government’s initiatives entail engaging local indigenous residents in projects that include building an inventory of the carbon stored in biomass – trees and plants – on protected, federally-owned and local communal areas of land called “ejidos” across the Yucatan peninsula, use and development of which is regulated or, in some instances, completely forbidden.
Jonathan Guyot is an example of one of the community of international volunteers and salary-earning professionals that are working on such projects. He’s also an example of new breed of professionals who studied both ecology and engineering, a combination that’s resulted in the emergence of a new type of job and profession type included under sustainable development umbrella.
A young, French “carbon engineer” working for local NGO U Yool Che based in the Quintana Roo province town of Felipe Carillo Puerto, Jonathan’s been working on creating and applying new information and communications technology (ICT) that’s being used by Ejido Felipe Carillo Puerto members to build an inventory of the carbon stored in community forests and wetlands.
The main thrust of the U Yool Che projects Guyot’s been working on involve enlisting the support, and employing the talent and resources, of local ejido members to avoid deforestation, reduce CO2 emissions and increase CO2 capture and sequestration while at the same time find ways to improve their living conditions by identifying and developing new sources of employment and income, he explained in an interview at U Yool Che’s office in Felipe Carillo Puerto.
Biospheres and development: The Sian Ka’an-Calakmul corridor
Guyot is the latest in a string of specially-trained, young professionals to work on Ejido Felipe Carillo Puerto’s Manejo Forestal Comunitario (Community Forest Management) project since U Yool Che launched the local forest carbon program in 2006. He and U Yool Che members have used satellite remote sensing and on-the-ground surveys to construct an “allometric” model that’s being used to estimate the amount of carbon stored in biomass across three types of ecosystems found in the ejido – two types of tropical forest, as well as one of wetlands.
Providing the ICT tools and employing ejido members is integral to the forest carbon project, Guyot explained. One goal is to help ejido community members adopt sustainable forestry and land use practices that can lead to earning and selling voluntary carbon offset credits that can supplement their incomes. “Local community members make use of all the tools we have available for measuring, monitoring and verifying carbon-biomass stocks and flows,” Guyot said.
The UN is also involved in related efforts. One is being undertaken by the Mexican government with support from Norway under the UN Development Program (UNDP) umbrella involves measuring and monitoring “carbon flux” – the seasonal and other fluctuations in carbon dioxide emissions in Yucatan forests and ecosystems, Guyot told TriplePundit.
Guyot pointed out that Ejido Felipe Carillo Puerto is one of several communal land areas in southern Yucatan where land and natural resource use and development is strictly regulated and hence essentially serve as “buffer zones” for the critical biosphere reserves of Sian Ka’an and Calakmul. U Yool Che and other groups are working with other ejidos in the area to establish a well-regulated and managed ecological corridor between the two biosphere reserves.
How much of great value can be done with so little in the way of financial support is clearly evident in the work being done with motivated local community involvement by organizations such as U Yool Che. The discrepancy between the value of the work they’re engaged in and the dollar value being placed on it is stark, even disturbing.
Despite a relative dearth of financial and other resources, U Yool Che’s community development/environmental conservation efforts extend out to include eco-tourism, developing markets for local handicrafts, and making use of much less destructive renewable energy tools, equipment and power sources, such as solar-powered stoves to replace those that burn wood.
Photo credit: UNESCO