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Guatemala: Conclusions

The Guatemalan Congress approved the Law on Access to Public Information in 2008, but there is evidence that the institutions related to the forest sector are not complying with the important articles of this Law. For example, the National Institute of Forests (INAB) has not made some reports available to the public, and INAB and the National Commission of Protected Areas (CONAP) have not delivered the transparency reports to the regulatory authority for the law (the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman) for the years 2009 and 2010. These findings indicate that the public does not have access to sufficient relevant information, and there is no way of it being analysed if the institutions are not delivering the information requested by the public in the framework of the Law. Furthermore, the environmental laws need to be translated into the indigenous languages, to comply with the Peace Accords. The National Forest Statistics System is a positive initiative which could develop into an important source of information and transparency on the Forest Sector.

The latest statistics relating to inequality in land distribution show that the 1996 Peace Accords have not been fulfilled. There is a lack of up-to-date information on land tenure of forested areas, which makes it impossible to carry out a more in-depth analysis. One of the proposals made by civil society regarding the land problem is Bill 40-84 on the National Integrated Rural Development System which, if approved, will support an institutional and political framework that is more redistributive and fair with regard to the forest sector by focusing on traditional knowledge and technologies for agricultural and forest production. This law has not yet been approved, although the new Government elected in November 2011 has indicated that it could be approved during its administration.

It is evident that there is still little compliance with forest legislation, which demonstrates the lack of institutional capacity to control this phenomenon and provide national coverage for the management of forest permits and licences as set out in the Law. The consumption of firewood is illustrative of these shortcomings: the majority of the rural populations consume a permitted volume of firewood per family unit, but without the presence of accessible systems of registration and permits, or recovery of standing forest. This leads to a distinction between informal and illegal use, which implies the need to have more exact information to differentiate between these two activities. Finally, the lack of knowledge of the laws and the lack of a sustainable forest culture also lead to a failure to comply with the laws.

The Evaluation of Guatemala's Forest Policy shows that the country's strategic forest ecosystems are not preserved, as evidenced by the rate of deforestation, which stands at 1.3% a year. It also shows that, although the management of natural forests outside protected areas is encouraged, as demonstrated by the fact that in 1999 there were 34,301 hectares of forest with licences and management plans, yet by 2009 the surface area being managed had fallen to 13,332 hectares. This situation provides evidence of two trends: on the one hand the lack of favourable economic conditions and competitiveness of the sector, and on the other the failure to promote a culture of sustainable forest management as a profitable economic activity in the long term.

On the subject of participation in the decision-making forums, the National System of Development Councils has several weaknesses in terms of transparency, notably a lack of information on who is represented at these Councils, lack of information on their activities as well as a lack of information on their effect on forest issues.

Furthermore, the forums and bodies for building public policy in the forest sector have little relationship with this system. Eight years have passed since the creation of the National Agenda 2003-2012 by the National Forest Programme. The Forest Consultation Group has still not been formally created, and its function of developing consensus on critical aspects of development and conservation of forests is not being realised. With regard to Forest Forums and Roundtables, in general there is only limited information about their plans, meetings and activities, which prevents analysis of their effectiveness.

As far as the Programme of Forestry Incentives is concerned, the INAB could provide more information about the owners who benefitted from it and that come under the category of smallholders of less than 15 ha of land. This would allow us to analyse whether the incentives have supported the most marginalised and poorest members of Guatemalan society who have less than 1 "manzana" of land (0.7 Ha) and who make up 45% of all rural workers. It is also evident that in 2011, 1% of the ordinary income and state budget was not allocated to forest incentives, as required by the Forest Law, thus affecting the ability of the State to counteract deforestation and the effects of climate change. It is important to add that there is considerable variation between state budgets approved for INAB and between the income accrued and registered by INAB, which undoubtedly affects its institutional capacity to manage forest activities. INAB has estimated that it needs a minimum of Q130,000,000 a year to function properly, but its recorded income in 2011 and 2010 was less than half this amount.

With regard to the impact of extra-sectoral activity on the forests and the assessment of development options, only a minority of public policies incorporate environmental protection and sustainable development in their plans. An analysis of the political parties' government plans carried out by the Guatemala Environmental Observatory also concluded that the results of research and debate on how to improve environmental management do not appear in their political agendas. In addition, we lack precise official information about the causes of deforestation derived from extra-sectoral activity, and the environmental budget is not sufficient to implement the policies whose principal purpose is to protect and manage the environment and natural resources.

Finally, Guatemala has two important participation initiatives which will regulate and define environmental services. A Climate Change bill has been discussed publicly in the National Climate Change Committee and in the Regional Committees, but there is not much information on its website about the actual bill or the regional level discussions and representation, or about the discussion of the bill in Congress. Preparation for REDD+ has included some participation from the indigenous sector and civil society through the Group on Forests, Biodiversity and Climate Change, which has defined a broader consultation process which strengthens both the institutional framework for consultation and the traditional processes for consulting indigenous peoples, but there is still no website detailing the REDD+ process from its outset to the current day, which could be dangerous given that some sectors have already expressed opposition to REDD+.

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