This week in Cancun, world leaders at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting are attempting to make progress toward a global climate change agreement – no easy task, as evidenced by last year's underwhelming outcomes from the Copenhagen meeting.
But only a few hundred miles southwest, a variety of stakeholders in the Mexican state of Chiapas are already forging ahead with a pilot plan to tackle climate change. Developed by the state government together with Conservation International (CI) and other supporters, this program is laying the foundation for ambitious actions in one of the country’s most climate-vulnerable regions – and paving the way for replication on a grander scale.
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The Climate Change Action Program for the State of Chiapas (PACCCH) is a collaborative initiative that aims to establish a state-wide framework for tackling climate change. It is one of the first plans worldwide that integrates activities that mitigate, or reduce, greenhouse gas emissions with activities that help people and ecosystems adapt to the environmental changes that have already been set in motion by a changing climate.Poverty Increases Climate Change Vulnerability
The state of Chiapas is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse regions of Mexico. Amidst Mayan archaeological ruins and species-rich cloud forests, traditional shade-grown coffee farms carpet the slopes of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range. In addition to its importance for the national coffee industry, Chiapas is also crucial for the country's freshwater supply: about 30 percent of Mexico's fresh water passes through the state's watersheds.
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Yet despite this wealth of resources, Chiapas is one of Mexico's poorest states. Population growth and limited livelihood options are forcing people to clear forests and other ecosystems to make room for agriculture and cattle ranching – actions which are threatening the long-term viability of these important landscapes.
Climate change is also a growing issue; this year, 60 of the state's 118 municipalities experienced heavy rain that led to damaging impacts like flooding and landslides, with a toll of dozens of lives and damage to infrastructure and crops. Other extreme weather events such as hurricanes and droughts are also occurring more often. Scientists believe that if climate change continues unchecked, these events will become increasingly frequent. Chiapas's high poverty rates also make its people especially vulnerable to climate change effects, as they are less able to relocate or take other preventative measures against impacts like drought, fire or flooding.
A Statewide Plan of Action
The Climate Change Action Program for the State of Chiapas (PACCCH) is a collaborative initiative that aims to establish a state-wide framework for tackling climate change. Strongly based on science and capacity-building, it is one of the first plans worldwide that will integrate activities that mitigate, or reduce, greenhouse gas emissions with activities that will help people and ecosystems adapt to the environmental changes that have already been set in motion by a changing climate.
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Together with Mexico's Secretary of Environment, the British Embassy of Mexico, the state government of Chiapas and several other partners including local universities, the national ecological institute and forest and land-use expert groups, CI is leading an effort to:
Generate scientific information that will serve as a basis for climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Scientists are developing a state-level, cross-sector greenhouse gas inventory, compiling data and using mapping tools to determine factors such as the major sources of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, current forest cover and carbon storage capacity and future climate change scenarios.
Develop a comprehensive carbon accounting scheme that will assess the amount of carbon dioxide being kept out of the atmosphere through REDD+ and reforestation activities. Many of these field demonstrations are already underway; CI and partner Starbucks are working with communities and smallholder farmers to promote carbon sequestration on private and communal land and to help link local farmers to voluntary carbon markets.
Implement climate change strategies that are tailored to local conditions. Preliminary studies have shown that 62 percent of Chiapas's greenhouse gas emissions are generated through land-use change, which indicates that REDD+ (Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation "plus" conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks) and other activities that protect and restore forests could result in a significant reduction of the state’s emissions. Other planned activities include shifting to renewable energy sources and ecosystem-based adaptation efforts, like replanting trees in areas destroyed by hurricanes.
From Chiapas to Cancun
In order to implement these climate change actions, PACCCH is creating an Intersecretarial Commission on Climate Change to ensure that climate change action is a priority across the state government and other state-wide initiatives. "This program will give government the tools that analyze how they can make the changes they need for effective action," says CI-Mexico Climate Change Coordinator Juan Carlos Franco Guillén.
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What makes this program so unique is the integration of climate mitigation and adaptation into one nationally-recognized strategy – one that can be implemented at the state level, with the potential to be replicated in other states and inform the national processes. Ultimately, these nationally-recognized programs feed into international-level decisions.
As the world's decision-makers try to turn discussion into action in Cancun, Chiapas provides proof that coordinated action is possible.
CONFERENCE: The 16th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP16)