By Jeremy Radachowsky
By now, we recognize that deforestation and fossil fuel emissions impact polar bears in the Arctic and raise sea levels around the world. But climate change also hits in ways and places less publicized.
Climate change has hit Central America hard. In the past several years, hotter, drier, and more variable weather has wrought havoc on the region, sparking severe drought, forest fires, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, crop failure, and disease.
This, in turn, hits the poorest the worst. In places like Honduras and Guatemala, peasants without capital cannot withstand a single failed crop season, let alone several in a row. Coffee workers are laid off due to lower productivity caused by drought and the “coffee rust” fungus, which runs rampant when coffee plants are stressed by climate. Smoke from forest fires, lack of clean water, and poor nutrition harm people’s health.
These factors, in conjunction with a complex sociopolitical context, have exacerbated the exodus of migrants from the region. In Central America, climate change and the refugee crisis are inextricably linked.
Despite these challenges and the fact that Honduras is not a major carbon emitter, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez announced this week that his government will take the lead in combating climate change through protection of its largest forest – the Moskitia – in a way that also improves regional security, the national economy, and local livelihoods so as to reduce the impetus for out-migration.
Central American forests can play a key role in combating climate change. Globally, forest conservation can represent 30 percent of the climate solution, since forests absorb and store carbon like no other technology that humans have been able to invent. And Central America is home to five large forests.
However, these forests are under great threat. During the past 15 years, 25 percent of the Maya Forest and 30 percent of the Moskitia Forest have been deforested. An incredible 90 percent of this deforestation is due to an unusual culprit – the cow. Illegal cattle ranching, often linked to organized crime, money laundering, and territorial control for drug trafficking, is devastating the region’s national parks and indigenous territories, and fomenting insecurity in key border areas.
The Honduran government has vowed to take on organized criminals, remove illegal livestock, and evict cattle ranchers from the core area of the Moskitia. This will be achieved through immediate field operations to re-claim critical forest areas, as well as long-term actions such as hiring and training new park guards and establishing permanent control posts in the region.
Through the new Kaha Kamasa Foundation, the government and partners will also promote sustainable development projects, as well as nature and archaeological tourism.
Saving the Moskitia Forest is neither cheap nor easy, but it is necessary and pragmatic. Protection of the forest will safeguard local indigenous people, water, wildlife, and will help mitigate the global climate crisis.
Honduras is stepping up to tackle its own social and economic challenges and contributing to the efforts to address climate change. The United States should assist by providing support through development assistance and strengthening efforts to combat climate change. U.S. federal government policies however are taking us in the opposite direction.
Even if the U.S. does not step up, other governments could help, as well as multilateral funding mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund—a financing mechanism established in 2014 by the 194 countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
We are all linked. In this intricate world, the actions of one have implications for everyone else. If we want Central America and the world to prosper, we all have to pitch in.
Photo, top: ©Roberto Lorenzo.