Today at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), the European Union (EU) announced a 25.5 million euro investment in the protection and sustainable use of the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica, and the Indigenous Peoples and local communities that risk their lives as their frontline defenders.
This new funding will build upon the ongoing EU-funded pilot project implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in partnership with Re:wild, the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), Alliance Bioversity International-CIAT, and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), which was launched during the previous COP26 in Glasgow.
The new EU investments will seek to establish broader engagement with the region around the Five Great Forests Initiative, facilitating coordinated efforts between EU members, Mesoamerican governments, private sector, civil society, NGOs, and environmental defenders for the benefit of the region’s people, biodiversity, and climate resilience. Its focus will be on four key components: improving data for transparency and decision-making; strengthening forest governance and biodiversity conservation; supporting sustainable use of forest resources; and protecting the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and local communities that risk their lives as the forests’ frontline defenders.
“Today we are gathered again at COP 27 to continue putting our weight behind the Great Forests of Mesoamerica initiative. We are not only announcing a 25.5 million euro scale-up of EU funding, but also a more coherent approach to the protection of the region’s last remaining large forests. As Team Europe–EU and EU Member States together–we invest close to 180 million euros in these ecosystems and in the future of the people that live off them. We are determined to join forces and to make a difference”, said Felice Zaccheo, Head of Unit for Mexico, Central America, Caribbean and Regional Operations (INTPA) of the European Commission.
Ranging from Mexico to Colombia, the Five Great Forests of Mesoamerica cover an area of over 120,000 square kilometers, or 46,000 square miles, comparable to three times the size of Switzerland. They store approximately half of the region’s carbon stocks, and are home to 7.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Over five million people depend on the Five Forests. Yet over the past 20 years, three of these five forests have been reduced in size by more than 30 percent, due mainly to increasing pressures from illegal cattle ranching.
Said Jeremy Radachowsky, Regional Director of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean for WCS, “Humanity is at a crossroads, facing the dual existential threats of climate change and biodiversity collapse. Mesoamerica’s Five Great Forests exemplify these global challenges, but also present an opportunity. By working together with urgency and a unified strategy across sectors and borders, the Five Forests Alliance serves as a model to the world of how we can protect our biodiversity and climate, while enhancing the rights and wellbeing of the most vulnerable Indigenous and local communities. We applaud the EU and its member states for taking leadership in joining and supporting this alliance.”
Half of the area of the Five Forests is managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Said Leví Sucre, Coordinator of AMPB: “Mesoamerica has much to contribute to the solution to climate change, especially the Indigenous Peoples and local communities that have protected the 5 Great Forests for millennia. I am pleased that the EU has this comprehensive vision of Mother Earth and that it is co-building a work strategy that has included us from the beginning. This in a joint effort to protect biodiversity that recognizes the key contribution of our communities and our worldview for the survival of these forests.”
In 2019, WCS and partners came together as the Five Forests Alliance during COP25 to present a consolidated regional action plan for the protection of the great forests of Mesoamerica, their local communities and Indigenous Peoples. Since then, there has been growing recognition among the region’s governments and stakeholders that joining efforts around the sustainable management and conservation of the Five Great Forests is vital for survival of the region’s peoples and biodiversity in the face of climate change.
Said Jair Urriola, Executive Secretary of the CCAD, “This scale-up by the European Union contributes to the vision of our Ministers of Environment, of strengthening the protection and effective management of our great forests in the region, supporting the livelihoods of the communities that inhabit them.”