New Internationalist

Guatemala gets a green card

Guatemalan natural pool and forest

It’s rare that a developing country receives praise for its environmental achievements. Economic progression is more heavily weighted than ecological conservation, and Guatemala’s priorities are no different. Its vulnerable ecosystems, and the government that abuses them, often receive much criticism: 95 per cent of the country’s water supply is polluted and 70 per cent of its mangrove forests have vanished, meaning the exotic nation’s anything but eco-friendly.

However, the World Future Council (WFC) has just nominated Guatemala for an International Award for its Visionary Forest Policies. The annual prize, which is supported by the United Nations, celebrates countries that are implementing laws to improve the living conditions of current and future generations.
Since the UN declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests, the WFC has short-listed 16 nations for the accolade based on their forest policies. The panel’s aim is to promote greater awareness of success stories and the challenges which many of the world’s forests, and the people who depend on them, face.

Guatemalan forest

According to Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum on Forests, ‘human dependence on forest resources for the most basic needs of food, medicine, clean water and shelter are values that call for a local, regional and international political commitment to sustainably managing our forests. Throughout the International Year of Forests 2011, we will celebrate the functions that forests provide to people and the vital role they play in realizing meaningful sustainable development. It is therefore very timely that innovative forest policy solutions are being honoured through this year’s Future Policy Award.’

The accolade, which honours exemplary policies rather than exemplary people, will be presented at the UN Headquarters in New York in September.

Earlier this year Guatemala was also awarded the Sasakawa Prize by the UN Environment Programme for its forest conservation initiative.

These may sound like minor achievements but in a country with little – if any – environmental control, such recognition is an important step in the right direction.

Guatemalan bridge in forest

Ecological policies are usually redundant in developing countries since governments use green space as a bargaining tool with private businesses: manipulating land for financial gain, regardless of whom or what gets destroyed in the process.

Last year, President Álvaro Colom controversially granted an extension to Anglo-French oil giant Perenco, allowing it to continue pumping oil out of Laguna del Tigre – one of Guatemala’s most important protected areas.

It’s clear that environmental issues are rarely at the forefront of politicians’ minds, but awards like this are a positive way to encourage a sustainable tomorrow.

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About the author

Anna-Claire Bevan a New Internationalist contributor

Anna-Claire Bevan is a freelance journalist currently based in Guatemala City. She writes about political, environmental and social issues for magazines both in Guatemala and back home in the UK. Anna originally set up her first blog Vida Latina as a result of her travels in Latin America and frustrations at the lack of international media coverage that this area of the world receives.

Read more by Anna-Claire Bevan

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