In 2019, the Ecosystem Modeling Unit (EMU) of the Forests, Biodiversity and Climate Change Program (PBBCC), through various urban ecology initiatives in Costa Rica made a key contribution to the environmental initiatives of the Municipality of Curridabat; which by year-end had been extended to 31 municipalities in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Costa Rica.
The UME characterized the green and blue infrastructure of these urban areas, determining the behavior of surface temperatures and measuring ecological connectivity as inputs for the municipalities’ territorial planning. All this work led to the creation of the first report on the status of biodiversity in an urban unicipality. This report allows an evaluation of the progress towards the vision of the municipality: the Ciudad Dulce (Sweet City), which aims to improve the well-being of citizens through increased contact with nature and by integrating city growth with a sustainable development approach.
The Watersheds and Water Security Unit (UCSH) entered the field of urban watersheds through the implementation of the project Measuring sustainability in cities: valuing trees and their services, with support from the municipality of Turrialba, the Rural Development Institute (INDER) and other actors in Costa Rica. In addition, UCSH team worked with the Municipal Development Institute of Costa Rica to support the management of the Intermunicipal Agency of the Maria Aguilar River Sub-basin-AIRMA. Again, this project supported the vision of the municipalities to move towards a model of multilevel governance for sustainable urban development, focusing in this case on water resources.
With funding from the International Climate Initiative’s (IKI) Secondary Forests project, CATIE led the creation of the Activa Business Lab (http://activa.catie.ac.cr/). The Lab aims to facilitate the process of rural and indigenous communities and agricultural and forestry producers in developing innovations and closing the gap between potential investors and the territories they inhabit. The ventures supported to date include Sacalá of Jilotepeque, Guatemala, and Hartmade, of Turrialba, Costa Rica.
This sector has traditionally been excluded from new entrepreneurial, acceleration and financing movements. For this reason, they addressed the challenges faced by rural entrepreneurs in the agricultural and forestry sectors, promoting the creation of new disruptive, innovative and inclusive business models based on intellectual property, all with positive social and environmental impacts.
These business models will promote rural economic development, connect rurality with new economic dynamics, support and encourage rural entrepreneurship, accelerate small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with high potential to generate positive social and environmental impacts, introduce innovation in rural areas, as well as nurturing rural businesses with financing and training to grow with green economy elements.
Finally, a hackathon-type technological challenge was carried out in Guatemala; which sought to generate an affordable and sustainable housing solution where the predominant material was wood. For this process, 32 proposals were received from which three were selected, and the team members had a pre-incubation process to generate their business model.
The project Mechanisms and networks for climate change technology transfer in Latin America and the Caribbean, coordinated by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), promoted the development and transfer of technologies from CATIE’s Ecosystem Management Chair (GECO), to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to climate change in the energy, transport, agriculture and forestry sectors. On the other hand, the project Socio-ecological Restoration of climate-change resilient Forests, Landscapes and Ecosystem Services, led by the Chair of Ecology in Tropical Forest Management, contributed to the resilience of landscapes and forests under high exposure to climate change that are found in protected areas of the Talamanca Mountain Range in Costa Rica.
These forests are of regional importance for their biodiversity and of national importance for the ecosystem services they provide to Costa Rican society. During 2019, the project consolidated the baseline for monitoring changes in the ecosystems, publishing three articles in international scientific journals and developing, in a participatory manner with the main actors, a plan for strengthening capacities to reduce the vulnerability of the ecosystems of the protected areas.
In addition, GECO consolidated its participation at the global, regional and national levels with technical and political actions related to high-carbon ecosystems, particularlly blue carbon in mangroves. The GECO leader is co-author of the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing World (SCCR) and the contribution to this report was presented at the PreCOP, held in San José, Costa Rica, in 2019. GECO also maintained its participation in the Scientific Working Group of the International Blue Carbon Initiative and has provided technical assistance to the new Nordic countries’ Blue Carbon Network based on the scientific and political experience generated in Central America and the Caribbean.
At the regional level, GECO conceptualized and designed the interdisciplinary and multisectoral Mangroves for Development project, which will begin in 2020, promoting transformational actions in coastal-marine landscapes of the northwestern Dominican Republic and promoting the inclusion of blue carbon and mangroves in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). In addition, it contributed to the conceptualization of the regional strategy for the conservation of the mangroves of the Mesoamerican reef, responding to the needs of the Central American Integration System (SICA).
In 2019, work on national forest resource monitoring systems was carried out in Mexico, Brazil, Suriname, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, yielding the following outstanding actions:
In Costa Rica, GECO in partnership with Conservation International (CI) completed a study of land use change and a prioritization of areas for restoration in the mangroves of the Gulf of Nicoya. CI will be working with GECO in 2020 and 2021 to restore mangroves in the country’s Pacific region. Finally, training was provided to a large team from the Colombian government with the intention that Colombia could build its country position on blue carbon during COP25.
Finally, the Latin American Chair of Forestry Policy and Economics (CLAPEF) formulated a course for Ecuador, the Capacity Building Program in Proposal Formulation for Access to Climate Finance, which was offered virtually to train 49 people from public and private institutions, especially in access to resources from the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The Latin American Model Forest Network (RLABM) is a partnership between voluntary and cross-sectoral social platforms for the sustainable management of forests and landscapes, supported by government institutions in each member country and by international organizations such as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), CUSO International and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); and chaired by CATIE. Through these platforms, local leaders seek to implement the proposals and commitments of international conventions in their territories.
In 2019, the Hileia Baiana platform in Brazil joined the RLABM, bringing the total number of Model Forest initiatives to 33 in 14 countries. The study and systematization of their achievements and impacts was completed, showing their contribution to the consolidation of local natural resource governance, the promotion of sustainable practices, greater local participation in conservation actions, improvement of ecosystem services, and the impact of territories on public policies. The RLABM also held the workshop on Opportunities and Challenges of Model Forests in the context of land occupation and water management, under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in Bolivia, where more than 50 leaders of territorial management processes strengthened their vision and capacities to face these challenges.
The project Development of Sustainable Forestry Models and Links with the Private Sector for Secondary Forests, with funding from the German government’s IKI (hereafter the IKI project) represents the most recent milestone in CATIE’s long and outstanding track record in the field of restored forests through secondary succession, and its ecological foundations.
In 2019, concrete progress was made in facilitating changes in public policy in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica to generate enabling conditions for the management of secondary forests, building work agendas with forest authorities. In order to lead the development of business models and attract financing for secondary forest management, the technological challenge called Constructon was carried out and launched in Guatemala, seeking solutions for wooden housing. This project is also implementing secondary forest management demonstration areas in each of the countries of action, conducting research on forest growth and yields and the costs and benefits of management.
The Latin American Chair of Forest Policy and Economics (CLAPEF) completed the project GreenTransformations in the Global South (GreeTS), carried out jointly with the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London and the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences. This project carried out a comparative analysis of Vietnam and Costa Rica of the enabling conditions and barriers to transformations for achieving a green economy in the land use and energy sectors. GreeTS generated more than 20 scientific publications and strengthened a knowledge network on the green economy related to the rural sector.
Finally, the use of drone technology in 2019 allowed better data to be obtained for the management of shade in cocoa plantations and the productive characterization of secondary forests. The Ecosystem Modeling Unit uses the most powerful platform currently available to collect and process geospatial data in real time, contributing to relevant projects such as the Water Harvesting project in Nicaragua.
The Ecology Chair consolidated a system for the massive import of field data obtained through the use of electronic devices. The database has eight independent studies of the effects of global change drivers on natural forests. Some of the studies date from the late 1980s and the database contains measurements for a total of 47 492 tree, palm, liana, and tree fern individuals, with 1,026 species counted. This initiative is a significant contribution to the region’s knowledge of tropical forests and their responses to human intervention, including biodiversity and ecosystem services, and it has served to improve their management based on scientific evidence.
With the 31st edition of the International Course on Forest Management: Governance and Legality in Forest Management and Restoration in the Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in 2019, more than 600 leaders and decision makers from institutions, programs, organizations and companies in the region have already been trained on the options and tools for sustainable forest management. Similarly, with the IV International Course on Forest Landscape Restoration, nearly 100 leaders of restoration projects and programs in several Latin American countries have been trained in methods to restore ecosystem services for human development. The course on Diversified Management of Natural Forests for officials of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) contributed to the national analysis of the contribution to conservation and human development of forest concessions in Guatemala, while the First International Course on Methods and Tools for Community Forest Management (held in El Petén, Guatemala, and of which two other versions will be held in 2020) is training Latin American leaders in community forest management for integrated and inclusive development, based on the lessons and experiences shared directly by local actors in the Petén.
Forest fires are a constant threat and risk to tropical ecosystems and are expected to increase in frequency and number due to climate change, and to begin occurring in ecosystems such as wetlands where they did not occur naturally.
In response to this threat, research has been carried out on the effects of forest fires on tropical ecosystems, as well as various works related to forest fire susceptibility analysis of the vegetation, methods for assessing fuel loads, prediction of fire behavior for tropical fuels, and vulnerability and threat analysis to fires in tropical ecosystems. All these efforts will contribute to strengthening the capacities of countries to restore productive forests and landscapes during the current decade of restoration, in the face of high exposure to climate change.
In 2019, the Watersheds and Water Security Unit (UCSH) focused on consolidating and expanding the lines of research through master’s thesis research, research and development projects, and the establishment of partnerships with research centers and universities to address the subject of watersheds. The implementation of the Proresilience project in Haiti, financed by the European Union and implemented with OXFAM, stands out. In this project, work was done on planning watersheds and community development, focusing on food security and assessing the resilience of these communities and their territories to the impacts of climate change and variability.
In addition, as part of the work approaches in watershed management, the following stand out: the development of the follow-up, monitoring and evaluation system of the PROCUENCAS Panama project (implemented by the Ministry of Environment); the drafting of the Management Plan for the Lake Atitlán Basin, Guatemala (requested by the Lake Atitlán Watershed Management Authority); and the development of the Territorial Management Plan for the Selle Massif watersheds in the southeast department of Haiti (financed by the United Nations Development Program-UNDP). Based on the implementation of these tools for the management and administration of hydrographic basins, in 2019 specific progress was made in facilitating and mediating for the change towards co-management of basins based on the institutionalization of this plan as a guide for the work of the Authority for the Management of the Lake Atitlán Basin, establishing enabling conditions for the sustainability of this basin, which is of great importance for tourism in Guatemala.
With the implementation of watershed planning methodologies in Haiti, the incorporation and adoption of the methodological guide for watershed co-management has been achieved (http://haitienvironnement.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Guide.145103620.pdf), which has also served to introduce a farm planning methodology using a watershed approach, thus facilitating the homogenization of methodological processes in watershed management. Several international organizations use these methodologies, including UNDP and OXFAM.
In Panama, CATIE is leading the social and ecological components of the Implementation of biodiversity monitoring and conservation actions in the Indio River basin project, which focuses on supporting biodiversity conservation in the watershed. In 2019, workshops were held with local stakeholders, forming community groups to implement the monitoring and implement the first community monitoring in the basin, thus facilitating the consolidation of a database.
CATIE has managed to strengthen its actions with the support of multiple local, national and international partners. Below, we highlight those with which various initiatives were developed in 2019, on the subject of forests, biodiversity, climate change and watersheds:
National or local governments
“CATIE’s contribution can be seen from different points of view. Among the most impacting is the research that began with the design and installation of experiments in permanent plots for measurement to learn about the dynamics of the Petén forest. This research has closed a cycle by providing scientific data, ensuring with some degree of certainty the long-term permanence of the five timber species with the greatest volumetric contribution in the forest concessions of the multiple use zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Furthermore, in terms of forest management, CATIE was the first school to ensure the conservation and good management of the Petén forest, publishing technical forestry and environmental elements that now serve as support in several countries. But what has been transcendental is accompanying forestry concession process, which is clearly a globally recognized success, with ample possibilities for replication”.