By Niyanta Spelman.
Originally posted on AustinEcoNetwork.com
By now, many of you have heard about the conclusion of the UN’s COP 20 in Lima. The representatives and negotiators of 196 countries that make the UN conference of parties worked past their Friday, December 12, 2014 deadline through late Saturday night to come to an agreement. The draft agreement coming out of COP 20 was quite weak and requires all countries to come up with their climate change plans ahead of COP 21 in Paris in 2015 when a global agreement would be negotiated and adopted.
Although weak, it is still forward movement that 196 countries around the world agreed to do something. To me, it speaks to the growing awareness of the urgent need to respond to climate change.
This awareness is growing across sectors, and perhaps the fastest among large corporations. Our own President helped set the tenor of discourse in Lima by forging an agreement between China and the US, without which, I don’t think we would have had even the weak agreement that was adopted.
Nigel Sizer of the World Resources Institute, who some of you might recall speaking at SXSW Eco in 2013, shared his cautious optimism with me in Lima. "We are losing 50 soccer fields of forest every minute around the world. We are seeing significant human rights abuses against indigenous leaders fighting for their home and environment, murders of leaders speaking up against deforestation. …because of climate change we are seeing the beginning of a global recognition that protecting and restoring forests and restoring the rights of indigenous forest leaders are key pieces of addressing climate change globally".
But even as there is a rising global awareness in the world across most countries, including the US, and advances towards a global agreement in 2015, along with unprecedented bilateral and multilateral agreements, there is a serious disconnect.
And, this may be my most urgent and important takeaway from COP 20. Most of the world doesn’t understand the urgency and the science of climate change, and specifically the non-linear relationship between emissions, global temperature rise and a changing climate (to be discussed later). Most of us are waiting for governments to act and corporations to act. Even if we get a global agreement in Paris, and provided that it is a serious agreement, very few people understand that the agreement doesn’t go into effect until 2020. That is simply not soon enough for the current carbon emission trajectory we are on. The planet has been here for 4 billion years and will remain for another 4 billion years. What is going to be the state of our biosphere and of humankind? That is where it will take the likes of those on this list to lead the actions necessary to avert a global climate crisis.
That ought to be the urgent discussion. But only if we were first, truly aware. Not to end on a pessimistic note during the holiday season, I remain an optimist and so find me to know why.
By Nancy L. Penrose
Each morning during our stay at the Lodge we climbed into a canoe at the dock and set out on Challuacocha Lake. Lucio sat in the back, paddling, Domingo in front, paddle also in hand, his eyes and ears always alert, always scanning for evidence of birds in the grasses, in the sky, in the green tunnels of philodendron forests that we glided through.
One day we climbed the Community-owned 100-foot tower built beside a giant kapok tree and looked out over the canopy of rainforest that rolled like a green ocean to the edges of the horizon. We heard the roar of howler monkeys and then studied their glorious red fur and curling snake-like tails through the spotting scope. A Scarlet Macaw flew in and perched long enough for us to view it well, convinced to move in closer by Domingo's call. In the far, far distance a rare Harpy Eagle sunned in a treetop, drying out its feathers after rains the day before, Domingo explained. Then, what David quickly named as his favorite bird, appeared: a Paradise Tanager with its kaleidoscope colors of green head, red rump, and bright blue belly, or "underparts" as the bird books would officially describe it.
The abundant and bizarre-looking Hoatzin in the Philodendron forest near Sani Lodge. (Credit: David Muerdter)
On another day we visited a clay lick on the Napo River where several species of parrots and parakeets gathered in a flutter of blue and green noisy profusion to eat the minerals their bodies need to absorb the toxins from the fruits they eat. We tromped through the thigh-high grasses of Sani Isla and spotted a hummingbird endemic to that one little island in the Napo River. From the canoe, peering into the forest, Domingo found for us the owl-like Common Potoo perfectly camouflaged to blend in and look like an extension of the very branch it was perched upon. Amazon kingfishers flashed blue as they flew from branch to branch above the water. Cocoi Herons perched in trees like white-feathered statues. Parrots squawked overhead flying two-by-two. The bizarre-looking Hoatzin—a heavy bird, bigger than a chicken, with eerie baby-blue skin around its bulging red eyes and a Mohawk-type crest—was abundant and fluttered awkwardly among the leaves and branches, making its trademark wheezing and grunting sounds.
We did not even have to leave the Lodge to go see birds. The open-air lobby, which includes a bar, looks right out to the Lake and surrounding vegetation. This has got to be one of the world's best places to settle in with a beer and a pair of binoculars to watch bird activity as the sun sets, the fading daylight turns the surface of the Lake golden orange, and the whine of insect voices begins to rise.
Domingo Gualinga, spotting scope on shoulder, on the boardwalk leading to the Napo River dock. (Credit: David Muerdter)
I know that the Sani Community and its Sani Lodge are always facing the challenges that accompany the oil extraction industry that is active along the Napo River and that is forever pushing against preservation of the rainforest. I recognize that my very presence is complicity. I did not travel from my home in Seattle by hand-paddled canoe! No, I flew to Quito and then to Coca on jet planes that pollute the atmosphere with carbon by burning the kind of fuel derived from the petroleum extracted from the Amazon Basin. I have heard said that some 60% of the Ecuadorean economy is derived from the petroleum industry.
I take heart knowing that by staying at Sani Lodge and by shopping at the Sani Warmi, the tourist dollars I spend there go to support health and education programs for the 450 members of this Kichwa-speaking indigenous group. I hope that the choices I have made help increase the choices for the Community so that oil extraction does not become its only, nor its best, choice.
An aerial view of the Amazon rainforest in Peru yields a never-ending sight of the forest, a sea of trees seamlessly blending with the meandering rivers all the way to the distant horizon. This immense stretch of forest teems with life in every corner - Andean Cocks of the Rocks skimming through the misty tree-tops, Mantled-Howlers foraging for food in the dense understory and Pink Dolphins dipping in and out of the murky rivers.
The Peruvian Amazon’s varied topography from the eastern foothills of the Andes mountains to the humid lowland jungles makes it one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, boasting the largest number of bird species and the third largest number of mammals. In fact, in just one hectare of Peru’s Manu National Park, nearly 250 varieties of trees can be found and it continues to be the world’s top hotspot for reptiles and amphibians.
But a continued aerial survey of the Amazon also gives way to waste and barren lands swept clean of any reminiscent vegetation or filled with broken tree stumps, teetering a thin line with as yet un-cut rainforest.
Deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon has had a devastating impact on the rainforest’s fragile eco-system with nearly 1.42 million hectares (3.5 million acres) of forest lands already cut down according to the Lima-based Instituto del Bien Comun. The country loses between 100,000 to 120,000 hectares every year due to deforestation as more and more illegal loggers, miners and outside interests advance further into the forest lands.
Peru’s Amazon rainforest coverage is second only to that of Brazil and deforestation of the forest spells dire consequences across regional, national and global borders.
The Amazon rainforest’s impact on global weather mechanisms cannot be understated. They have the potential to regulate rainfall patterns across many regions - more the loss of forests, more reduction in rainfall amounts, which in turn has the potential to negatively affect the Amazon’s critical water cycle necessary for all forms of life.
The Amazon is also one of the biggest reservoirs of carbon dioxide - a recent study by the Carnegie Institute of Science found that the Peruvian Amazon stores nearly seven billion metric tonnes of carbon. Depletion of the carbon stocks by clearing more trees will have the adverse potential to fuel further climate change with the release of green house gases.
One of the most devastating consequences of the Amazon’s deforestation has been the loss of wildlife populations, which is especially significant considering that one in ten known species in the world lives in the Amazon rainforest. According to estimates, more than 400 species of wildlife in Peru are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss, poaching and trafficking. Ramifications of the Peruvian Amazon’s destruction aren’t tied to the loss of bio-diversity alone, it also affects an estimated 300,000 indigenous people who have increasingly seen their rainforest homes succumb to the pressure of outside threats. Still, indigenous communities continue to remain the primary guardians of the rainforest.
At Rainforest Partnership, it is this belief that drives our mission to partner and work with rainforest communities, to help them establish a better standard of living, grow their economy sustainably in harmony with the forest and provide them a platform to to protect their land from outside interests.
In Peru, our partnerships with the indigenous communities extends all the way from the communities of San Antonio and Calabaza in the Colibri Cloudforest region to the Chipoata community in northern Peru all the way to the Achuar community who live near the country’s remote border with Ecuador.
Since 2009, Rainforest Partnership has been the only non-profit organization working with the communities of San Antonio and Calabaza in the Colibri Cloudforest region. Through capacity building and infrastructural development, we have helped the communities establish eco-tourism ventures and conservation activities that has generated sustainable sources of income without exploiting the forest resources in an area of 10,000 acres.
In Chipaota, an indigenous community bordering the Cordillera Azul National Park, we have helped the community establish new methods to sustainably harvest Piassaba palm fibers (a species endemic to the region) and preserve the population of this unique species in an area of nearly 15,000 acres. Implementation of a viable and marked based business model has bolstered the community’s income through the sale of forest handicrafts made from sustainable natural resources.
The indigenous Achuar community call a rich bio-diverse area of nearly 2 million acres of the Amazon rainforest, their home. But the community and their lands have come under threats from outside interests prospecting for oil and upending the balance between humans and the forest. Our partnership with the Achuar community will help them establish business models and marketing analysis for the production of sacha inchi and essential oils and support the community’s cultural preservation through education funding.
While indigenous tribes and communities remain the primary force for rainforest protection, national and global leaders have a significant responsibility to come together and collaborate on policies and measures that would keep the Amazon rainforest standing.
As Peru is set to host the 20th session of the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) this year is in its capital Lima, the world’s attention is going to be focused on the country’s efforts to reduce deforestation of its rainforest - monitoring extractive industries and the commercial drivers of deforestation, sustainable management of nature reserves and national parks that would safeguard wildlife and secure and guarantee the rights of indigenous communities to their titled rainforest lands. At the recent UN Climate Summit, a step towards this direction was taken, with Peru forming a three-country partnership with Norway and Germany that would help the country become carbon neutral with respect to deforestation and agriculture by 2021.
Forests and climate change are irrevocably tied and any meaningful address of this critical environmental issue should focus on the protection and preservation of forests around the globe. Heading towards the Climate Change Conference, we should remain optimistic, as evidenced by the recently endorsed ‘New York Declaration on Forests’ - that aims to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020, and strive to end it by 2030. There is renewed hope for our earth’s greatest resource.