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LATIN AMERICA: Changes in Land Use, Changes in Climate

Emilio Godoy* - Tierramérica

MEXICO CITY, Dec 2 2008 (IPS) - The countries of Latin America have failed to design integrated policies to control the processes of changes in land use, one of the causes of climate change. The region produces 12 percent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases, which are driving up the planet’s average temperatures and changing the climate around the globe.

Honduran Legislative Deputy Mary Flores.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Honduran Legislative Deputy Mary Flores. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Half of the emissions are the result of deforestation, with Brazil and Mexico leading the region in terms of climate-changing pollutants.

“Latin America needs regional integration to combat deforestation,” Brazilian Senator Renato Casagrande told Tierramérica.

Change in land use was one of the main issues taken up by 77 lawmakers from across the region at a meeting of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE) that ended Nov. 23 in the Mexican capital.

The event, sponsored by the Mexican Congress, the World Bank, the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (COM+) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), marked the launch of the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems.

“We hope that the Commission provides a clear set of measures that national parliaments can adopt through regulations, fiscal incentives or laws,” said Casagrande. “That way we can advance towards an economic system that foments a sustainable use of the land.”

In their 16-point declaration, the lawmakers stated that deforestation should be a priority in environmental action plans, especially considering the effective and low-cost opportunities associated with the measures and the important parallel benefits for local communities and biodiversity.

Latin America and the Caribbean hold more than 33 percent of the planet’s forest biomass, 50 percent of the jungles and 65 percent of tropical forest biomass.

“We should be more active in research, instruction, training and education, especially with people who make their living in rural areas and from the environment,” Honduran lawmaker Mary Flores said in a Tierramérica interview.

The Commission’s purpose is to bring international attention to the two main problems caused by changes in land use: loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems.

In their first-ever deliberations, the members of the Commission studied the state of ecosystems and the causes of their degradation.

Mexico, for example, loses some 500,000 hectares of forest annually, and Nicaragua loses about 75,000 hectares.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, produced by 1,360 experts from 95 countries, indicated in 2005 that in the three decades from 1950 to 1980 more land had been shifted to agricultural use than in the 150 years from 1700 to 1850. Today, a quarter of all land is farmed.

According to the assessment, by 1990 half the area of the 14 biomes (ecosystems that cover vast areas of the planet) had been significantly altered.

The most changed were tropical and subtropical forests. Jonathan Baillie, head of conservation programmes for the Zoological Society of London, noted that humans have altered ecosystems more in the past 50 years than in any previous period in history.

Casagrande underscored that “the Commission can serve as a global proposal that respects the special characteristics of each region. Further, it can provide a commitment for countries to reduce emissions caused by deforestation.”

The declaration of the GLOBE meeting, the first held in Latin America, will be presented to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, taking place next week, Dec. 9-10 in the Polish city of Poznan.

The Commission will function with initial financing of one million dollars from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“We could have a regional position (on deforestation), but we would need stricter measures and viable short-term development alternatives in order for it to be effective,” said lawmaker Flores, who is also vice president of the Honduran Congress.

By 2050 the region could lose 11 percent of its existing natural areas as a result of farming, infrastructure expansion and climate change.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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