Story at a glance

  • This Thursday marks the annual observance of Earth Day, which was first established in 1970 to mobilize international action on environmental issues.
  • Timed with Earth Day are multiple announcements from various sectors regarding new protections for tropical forests.
  • Protection of the world’s rainforests is vital in the fight against climate change.

The United States has teamed up with the Norwegian and British governments, as well as companies like Amazon and Nestlé, to launch a project aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the world’s tropical forests.

On board so far are well-known companies from Airbnb, Boston Consulting Group to GlaxoSmithKline, McKinsey, Nestlé, Salesforce, Bayer and Unilever. Those nine companies have committed to working with the U.S., Norway and Britain to invest at least $1 billion in the plan before the year ends, with more money to come in following years.

The private-meets-public effort will hopefully rally the financial support needed in the costly fight against climate change. Called the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition, they will pay countries with tropical and subtropical forests for emissions reductions in an effort to curb deforestation.

“The LEAF coalition is a groundbreaking example of the scale and type of collaboration that is needed to fight the climate crisis and achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050,” said John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

“Bringing together government and private-sector resources is a necessary step in supporting the large-scale efforts that must be mobilized to halt deforestation and begin to restore tropical and subtropical forests.”

The coalition doesn’t have much time to waste in their efforts to stop deforestation, as the situation for tropical forests continues to become increasingly dire. According to LEAF, the pace of deforestation actually picked up in 2020, citing data from Global Forest Watch showing a 12 percent increase from the year prior, or more than 10 million hectares of primary tropical forest — which is roughly the size of Switzerland.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to our planet, and the LEAF coalition offers us an opportunity to bring together governments and companies to fight it,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “In uniting behind a common cause, the countries and companies of the coalition have a chance to end deforestation by 2030.”

Green groups take action to protect forests in Belize

Conservation organizations have also been doing their part to protect the rainforests. When an area owned previously by Forestland Group, a U.S. company that had permits for sustainable logging, went up for sale, a group of nonprofits moved in to secure it.

An effort spearheaded by groups like the Nature Conservancy, World Land Trust, University of Belize Environmental Research Institute and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the forest will now be permanently saved from logging. 

Newly nicknamed Belize Maya Forest, the area is part of 38 million acres of tropical forest across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala known as the Selva Maya, a biodiversity hotspot and home to a plethora of important species such as wild cats, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and hundreds of bird species.

“The minute you start driving through the forest, it’s teeming with biodiversity,” says Elma Kay, a director at the Belize Maya Forest Trust. “I can’t tell you how many ocellated turkeys we saw on the drive in — more than 50. For Belizeans, this forest means we get to safeguard our biodiversity — from iconic jaguars to critically endangered Central American river turtles to endangered tapirs — which is the lifeblood of our economy and our cultural heritage.”

When combined with the adjacent Rio Bravo Reserve, the newly protected forest creates a safe zone that covers 9 percent of Belize’s overall landmass, securing a vital wildlife corridor across northern Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize.

“Forests like these hold vast amounts of carbon,” Julie Robinson, Belize program director for the Nature Conservancy, told the Guardian. “We’re at a tipping point, so it’s really important to try to reverse the trend we’re on.”

“If it wasn’t bought for conservation, the most likely buyers would be for large-scale, industrial, mechanised, monocrop agriculture,” Kay says. “That’s the threat to forests in Belize, especially central Belize, the country’s agricultural belt. What we saved this land from is full-scale deforestation and conversion.”

Published on Apr 22, 2021