Saving an Ancient Place to Help Solve a Modern Problem
Imagine you are in the Maya Forest of Belize, surrounded by innumerable shades of green. You hear the roar of Howler monkeys and lively chatter of parrots and hundreds of other bird species. You are in a place that witnessed an ancient civilization rise, thrive and fade.
Today, it is the forest itself, and all the mystery it holds, that is at risk of disappearing. The region’s tropical forests are being cleared at an alarming rate by logging to make way for agriculture, cattle ranching, and development. Between 1986 and 2018, the nation’s forest stocks declined by more than 28%. When forests are removed, the carbon they store escapes into the atmosphere. Loss of tropical forests such as those in Belize is responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions—a significant factor in the face of climate change.
That’s why TNC facilitated a coalition of more than a dozen entities that recently conserved 236,000 acres of Belize’s Maya Forest.
This tropical rainforest is home to at least 70 species of mammals, such as jaguars, pumas, and howler and spider monkeys, in addition to hundreds of species of resident and migratory birds. It also helps to safeguard three major watersheds tha tsupply the country with a third of its drinking water and a quarter of its water for irrigation.
“This area has great historical and cultural significance, and it is impossible to overstate its ecological importance,” says Julie Robinson, TNC’s program director in Belize. “And just by ensuring it will endure, we are helping to solve the most urgent problem of our time—climate change.” TNC’s climate scientists estimate that using natural solutions to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, including conserving at-risk priority landscapes like the Maya Forest, can deliver about one third of the global emissions reductions needed by 2030.
Forever Blue in Belize
eatures three of four coral atolls in the Atlantic, lush mangrove forests, numerous offshore islands, and hosts 77 species listed as threatened by the IUCN.
The cerulean waters of Belize’s Caribbean coast are home to some of the nation’s most valuable treasures. These waters support lush mangrove forests, vibrant reefs and extensive beds of sea grass, all of which provide critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, including West Indian manatees and hawksbill turtles.
With nearly half of all Belizeans living in coastal communities, the health of Belize’s marine ecosystems is of national importance. Tourism generates more than 40% of Belize’s national income, and the Belize Barrier Reef— part of the second-longest coral reef system in the world—is one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
To protect these natural wonders, the government of Belize signed an agreement with TNC in November 2021 that will generate an estimated USD 180 million to support the country’s ambitious commitment to protect 30% of its ocean waters. Representing the world’s largest debt restructuring for marine conservation to date, the deal restructured approximately USD 550 million of Belize’s external commercial debt with more favorable terms, and in turn has secured long-term sustainable financing for ocean conservation—as much as USD 180 million of new funding over the next 20 years. The Belize Blue Bond project more than triples Belize’s budget for ocean conservation over the next two decades, including a new endowment that could reach USD 92 million in value to sustain long-term conservation funding.
Amplifying Indigenous Voices
With deep ties to their land and reliance on its resources, Indigenous Peoples are vital allies in conservation and climate action. In Brazil, TNC has partnered with Indigenous institutions for the past 20 years. From supporting territorial and environmental management plans on Indigenous lands to promoting dialogue between Indigenous Peoples and companies that operate on or near their lands, TNC has amplified Indigenous voices to conserve their territories with new tools, including communications training. A direct result of this training was the creation of the pioneering Guerreiros Digit@is—Digital Warriors—network on Instagram that brings together Indigenous communicators from the Brazilian states of Pará, Mato Grosso, and Amapá.
Territories of Indigenous Peoples cover 24% of the globe’s land surface, yet they contain 80% of the world’s biodiversity. From the Maya Forest in Mexico to the Amazon basin, TNC’s partnership with Indigenous Peoples has the potential to influence the future of more than 10% of Latin America’s most biodiverse landscapes.
Smart Energy Siting to Support Climate and Biodiversity Goals
To tackle climate change, we must transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible. Fortunately, we don’t need to prioritize action on climate over conservation goals. By including nature in the energy planning and siting processes, we can meet the twin goals of addressing the climate crisis and conserving at least 30% of our lands, waters, and oceans by 2030.
TNC is collaborating with the government of Peru—one of the world’s most biodiverse countries—to promote our “Hydro by Design” approach, which allows governments and developers to make better and more transparent decisions about their investments and projects, ensuring that hydropower does not come at the expense of biodiversity and free-flowing rivers. Our work with the Peruvian government and its Ministry of Energy and Mines includes assessing renewable energy projects by developing best-practices guides, identifying the most fitting places to site energy (solar and wind), and designing and carrying out training programs to minimize the environmental risks of energy infrastructure.
Additionally, TNC is supporting authorities in planning a sustainable energy future for Loreto, a region located in the Peruvian Amazon. We are providing policy recommendations for a clean energy transition while mitigating adverse impacts on nature. Diversifying energy supply while minimizing social and environmental impacts is one of the most critical challenges in the Peruvian Amazon. Currently, Loreto—which accounts for half of the Peruvian Amazon—is electrically isolated from the rest of the country, constraining the economic development of this culturally and biologically diverse region.
Impact Report 2021
Together, we find a way