Initiated at the end of Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war, a radical land-redistribution program has incubated dozens of community-owned sustainable industries that generate millions of dollars to build schools and health clinics in the indigenous villages of Petén. Of more interest to the wider world: It has also drastically reduced deforestation and locked down local forest carbon, hundreds of billions of tons of which are stored in the planet’s tropical regions. Though forests are massive natural emitters of CO2, they absorb much more, making them terrestrial carbon sinks on par with the oceans and key to slowing down climate change. According to research published in the journal Science, they have sucked up as much as 30 percent of human-made emissions since 1990.
The idea at the heart of the Guatemalan program is simple: Carmelita and 10 other forest communities agree to monitor a territory of nearly 1 million acres for illegal logging, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities. In return, these concession communities get legal title to the land and rights to profits from forest goods such as xati, chicle (a rubberlike sap used in chewing gum), and timber as well as ecotourism. The enterprises must adhere to strict international sustainability standards.