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Guatemala: Lessons Learnt

The lack of sustainability in the use of forest assets in Guatemala is evidenced by the massive deforestation which has occurred over the last 50 years, and by the current use of wood, which exceeds natural growth and which, for the most part, is carried out illegally or in an unauthorised manner (estimated at 95% in absolute national terms).

According to the 'Environmental Profile of Guatemala 2008-2009', produced by the Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment at Guatemala's Rafael Landivar University, "it is estimated that forest coverage in 1950 was 6,973,924 hectares (ha)", with an annual loss since 1950 of between "60,000 and 70,000 ha" and an accumulated loss over the last 50 years of "2,958,826 (ha)." The same study states that Guatemala, compared to the rest of Latin America, has one of the largest concentrations of areas with rapid changes in forest and land coverage, after Honduras, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

As far as the level of transparency and access to information on the forest sector is concerned, compliance is lacking with the obligations in the law on access to public information. Information relating to land tenure, although not up to date, shows that there is still a high level of land hoarding and social exclusion of the indigenous peoples with regard to access to land, and consequently in relation to forest-covered land, which in turn exposes the lack of compliance with the Peace Accords signed in 1996. The legal, institutional and political framework of the forest sector exhibits considerable shortcomings in the area of implementation, and there is little information on the spaces for decision-making in the forest sector, which prevents an analysis of how the social sectors are participating in local, regional and national forest management.

It is also evident that forest incentives, which are crucial tools in the fight against deforestation, do not receive the amounts they are due under the forest law, and there is inconsistency between the approved budget and the income registered by the National Institute of Forests annually; this weakens its internal operations and, consequently, forest management at a national level. Successive governments have not prioritised environmental topics, and consequently forest issues, preferring instead to invest in large-scale mega-projects, such as mining, agro-fuels or crude oil operations. We do not see this as an appropriate response to the most pressing issue of recent years: climate change. Nevertheless, there is discussion of the content of a climate change law, which may encourage greater knowledge of the need to prioritise environmental issues in the country's development; this in turn will have a significant influence on the future of the forest sector.

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