Aerial View of Maya Forest
Aerial View of Maya Forest The 13.3 million-acre Maya Forest stretches across Belize, Mexico and Guatemala © Ami Vitale

The Nature Conservancy in Belize


Rio Bravo Climate Action Project. The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area is situated in the Maya Forest.

Rio Bravo Dew on leaves in Belize © Gary Braasch

The Rio Bravo climate action project involves the conservation and sustainable management of more than 51,000 acres of forest in northwest Belize.

It is estimated that the project will sequester and avoid the emission of significant amounts of carbon dioxide over 40 years by preventing deforestation and instituting sustainable forest management.

The project was one of the first fully funded forest-sector projects implemented and accepted under the U.S. Initiative on Joint Implementation on February 3, 1995. It is taking place at the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, 260,000 acres of mixed lowland, moist sub-tropical broadleaf forest.

Programme for Belize, the Nature Conservancy’s partner organization in Belize, manages the project and private reserve overall. A number of energy producers provided $5.6 million in funding for the first 10 years of the 40-year project.

The next 30 years will be sustained by proceeds from sustainable timber extraction under Programme for Belize's management and interest from the project endowment. Investors include Canadian Occidental Petroleum Ltd. (now Nexen Inc.), Cinergy (now Duke Power), Detroit Edison (now DTE Energy), Nexen, PacifiCorp, Suncor Energy Inc., Utilitree Carbon Company and Wisconsin Electric Power Company (now WE Energies).

Conservation Significance

The Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area is situated amid the biologically rich Maya Forest. It is also part of a million-acre corridor that is key to biodiversity conservation in Central America and one of the Conservancy's top conservation priorities. The area is home to the endangered black howler monkey and jaguar, numerous migratory birds, and mahogany and other important tree species. It contains forest cover types protected nowhere else in Belize.

The project site was under imminent threat of conversion to agriculture. Studies undertaken before the project began indicated that without further protection, up to 90 percent of the forest cover would have been converted to agricultural use.

Net Carbon Benefits

The project will sequester and avoid the emission of millions of tons of carbon dioxide through two primary approaches:

Prevention of deforestation: Programme for Belize purchased 51,000 acres of upland forest and added it to the existing protected area.

Sustainable forest management and regeneration: A combination of improved timber operations and ecosystem management practices are being used. Management practices include creation of expanded protected areas and undisturbed buffer zones, use of reduced-impact harvesting techniques, biomass enhancement and increased fire management and site security.

A Model Project

The Rio Bravo Carbon Sequestration Pilot Project, one of several spearheaded by the Conservancy and its partners, is a model project demonstrating how saving forests is part of the solution to climate change. The benefits include:

  • Permanence Long-term finance mechanisms, including establishment of an endowment fund, will help to support the project beyond its initial funding. Control of fire and illegal wood harvesting in the project area are helping reduce unintended loss of forest and new emissions of carbon dioxide.
  • Additionality The carbon benefits are clearly additional to what would have occurred without the project. Other parties would have purchased the newly acquired land and converted it to agricultural production. Also, the land now under the natural forest management plan would have been logged under customary practices.
  • Avoiding leakage With a sound strategy in place for monitoring and mitigating any carbon leakage, the Rio Bravo project ensures that carbon benefits achieved within the project boundaries are not negated by actions elsewhere as a result of the project.
Forester Darrell Novello
Forester Darrell Novello Forester Darrell Novello with GPS equipment at Hill Bank in Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area of Belize in Central America. © Tony Rath