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Supporting initiatives to conserve páramo and water resources in Colombia

(24 june 2014)

During this year I have been involved with various activities to support several interesting initiatives for the conservation of the páramos and water resources, with an emphasis on Colombia. In the first place, I continued to be part of the Scientific Committee for the delimitation of the páramo at the national level. This is a process with important implications for the environmental and economic policy of Colombia. I have written about this initiative before (see below; News 4 September 2013) but during this year, the scale was increased and included wetlands delimitation

I also participated in the formulation of a regional project, in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, for the conservation of the páramo, focusing on institutional coordination, supporting communities and generation and exchange of knowledge. This project, probably starting in January 2015, will be executed by the von Humboldt Institute, several CAR and organizations such as IUCN and WWF and financed by the European Union. This work took me to many places in the three countries and I re-encountered with many friends who are passionate about the preservation of páramo.

Finally, in these days I am traveling frequently to the beautiful city of Manizales, to support a very interesting process for the management of the Chinchina watershed. This basin starts at the Cumanday volcano (Nevado del Ruiz), in los Nevados National Park, and covers Andean forests, livestock areas, villages, the coffee region, cities and tropical areas near the Cauca River. Local institutions have reached agreement to promote joint action ("Pactos para la cuenca Chinchiná") in an innovative way: first, inter-institutional commitment is achieved before defining the specific action and funding. Now that there is a strong commitment, actions are various and well coordinated. I am passionate about working in this area, because it is a positive process, with enthusiastic people and the Nevados Park is my "cradle" in South America: this is where I did my early work 25 years ago.

Evaluating the UN-REDD programme

(10 January 2014)

Since October 2013 and until March 2014, I am part of a team of three persons that evaluates the global UN programme on REDD (UN-REDD). This is a complex assignment, but extremely interesting because it brings me into contact with one of the major climate change and forest conservations initiatives of the 21st century.

Several years ago, to be precise in 2008 at the Conference of Parties to the UN framework convention on Climate Change in Indonesia, the world accepted formally that the conservation of forests potentially is a very strong tool in the mitigation of the effects of Climate Change. Effectively avoiding deforestation implies a reduction of the emissions of millions of tons of CO2 per year. Hence, protection of forests is not only positive to conserve biodiversity and to support local livelihoods but also to keep the planet from warming up.

The mechanism to mitigate climate change by avoiding deforestation is called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). It is hoped that in the near future, industrialized countriesin the North will financially support countries in the South to conserve large areas of forest and herewith, compensate some of the green house gas emissions these "rich" countries have caused during their "development". In order to support tropical rainforest countries to prepare for this global mechanism, the United Nations developed the UN-REDD programme which is active now in almost 50 countries at global level.

Although the basics are simple, in reality REDD+ is a complex matter because it deals with international negotiations, rights of forest peoples', scientific information on forest growth and degradation and huge amounts of money. No surprise that the UN wants to make sure the programme is implemented efficiently, managed transparently and evaluated carefully. The latter is our task. In my case, it has not only brought me to Panamá, Ecuador and Paraguay as well as to Geneva, Rome and Montreal. I can only hope my contribution to this programme will at least compensate my own carbon footprint.....

Andean forests in the Peruvian coastal regions

(11 September 2013)

The coastal area of Peru is known for its (extremely) dry landscape. This is not surprising considering that in fact, the entire (densely populated) coastal strip of this inmense country is hardly receiving any rainfall. However, many people forget that the Andean mountain range is quite close to the Pacific Ocean and most coastal regions (or provinces) extend from the coastline up to altitudes of over 4000 m.a.s.l. Therefore, these regions generally have ecosystems varying from deserts to perhumid mountain forests and páramo or Jalca. However, since most of the higher parts have a difficult access while most of the population and economic activities take place in  the coastal strip, not even the people living here are aware that regions like Lambayeque, Piura or La Libertad indeed have lush tropical mountain forests. This is even more surprising when it is considered that the intensive agricultural productivity in the coastal lands depend for 100% of irrigation water originating in the highlands.

With this in mind, in 2010 the Peruvian government, in collaboration with Profonanpe and Agrorural, developed a project to conserve the biodiversity of forests in the Andean portion of the Lambayeque region. The project is financed by GEF through IFAD and I had the luck to participate in the formulation mission 3 years ago. Now, IFAD invited me to visit the project partners and the field activities again, to evaluate the progress of this fascinating project. I write these lines while preparing for the mission in Lima, but I look forward to visit the rural communities in the mountains of Lambayeque next week. It is wonderful to be able to ascent over 3000 meter from the hot cities close to the beach to quite remote indigenous villages in the mist and cold. The local cultural identity is strongly developed, proven by their local organization in farmer associations that implement projects on sustainable forest management in a nicely coordinated way among various families. A great way to get to know the "hidden mountains of the coast"