July 2, 2008

There’s Green in Green

By Mayer, Wayne E

EVER SINCE Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World introduced readers to "the grandest, richest, most wonderful bit of earth upon this planet," conservationists have been designing creative ways to protect Latin America's wildest places. Setting aside areas as national parks or wildlife reserves marks an essential first step, but people need still to be convinced about the importance of such protections. Now, with global concern about climate change, conservationists are finding they have another argument to make the case: Protected areas can contribute to a low- carbon economy.

That was the implication of the second Latin American Congress of National Parks and Other Protected Areas, which brought together high-level environmental officials, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other interested parties several months ago in Bariloche, Argentina. The meeting looked at "the roles protected areas play in the broader global marketplace," said Victor Hugo Inchausty, the meeting's program coordinator.

"An important question surfaced," Inchausty said. "How can we generate agreements between governments, extractive enterprises, and NGOs for the development of specific environmental management and sustainable financing mechanisms that compensate for environmental degradation and offset greenhouse gas emissions?"

The conference, held every ten years, hosted over 2,200 participants, including most Central and South American environment ministers, international organizations, and representatives of indigenous and Afro-Latin American communities, fishermen, and private enterprises. They looked at ways to improve training for those involved in protectedarea management and exchange more information among countries.

Twenty educators from the hemisphere's main conservation training centers-the "Bariloche Veinte"-agreed to share curricula and take an open-source approach to education, information, and technology transfer. "This is the first time IVe seen all the major protected- area training providers in the hemisphere roll up their sleeves and decide to collaborate on capacity building-on getting things done," said Ryan Finchum, assistant director of the Center for Protected Area Management and Training at Colorado State University's Warner College of Natural Resources. This new spirit of collaboration "helps Latin American governments more quickly advance toward meeting their obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity," Finchum said.

In Bariloche, each country presented a national report on the state of its protected areas, and officials agreed to coordinate efforts so that lessons learned in the management of, say, Peru's Manu National Park might be applied to Panama's Danen National Park or Venezuela's Canaima National Park or any other protected area in the Americas. The idea is that sharing information across national boundaries will strengthen park management throughout the region and help unite federal governments and the donor community around the best practices for managing protected areas.

This collaborative approach also creates opportunities to harness the vast network of protected forests and unprotected "buffer zone" forests, as well as agricultural lands, to the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Lnchausty said.

"If protected areas and buffer zone land owners can be compensated for their actions to reduce emissions or sequester carbon dioxide," he said, "economic incentives for conservation as well as sustainable funding mechanisms for protected-area management can offer opportunities to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change."

In other words, countries and NGOs now recognize protected areas as economic assets because they help reduce carbon footprints. That provides another incentive for governments and private landowners alike to tread lightly in the region's remaining wild places.

-Wayne E. Mayer

Copyright Organization of American States, Sales and Promotion Division Jul/Aug 2008

(c) 2008 Americas; English edition. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.