The United States announced its biggest ever "debt-for-nature" swap, forgiving US$24 million of Guatemala's foreign debt to Washington in exchange for a pledge to protect tropical forests in the central American nation.
Under the initiative, carried out with the help of two environmental groups, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International Foundation, Guatemala will invest the US$24 million over the next 15 years to conserve key ecosystems, officials said.
"The signature of this agreement marks a historic step in the conservation of tropical forests in Guatemala, one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth," said US Ambassador James Derham.
"The funds will help conserve Guatemala's high altitude cloud forests, rain forests, and coastal mangrove swamps," he said.
Derham said the forests were home to hundreds of species of songbirds and waterfowl that migrate between the United States and Guatemala, as well as many rare and endangered species, including the quetzal bird, jaguars and margays.
The agreement was the biggest ever reached under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998.
The act has seen similar debt-for-nature swaps with Bangladesh, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, Paraguay, Peru, The Philippines and Panama, although none on such a large scale, Derham said.
Overall, the deals will generate more than US$125 million over 10-25 years to protect tropical forests, said US officials.
Guatemalan President Oscar Berger said the funds freed up under the deal would be used to conserve two million hectares of forest, home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and medicinal plants.
Areas covered by the agreement include the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the Western Highlands volcanic chain, the Potagua/Polochic System and the Cuchumatanese region, he said.
According to Guatemala's National Council of Protected Areas, the regions covered by the deal contain 70 per cent of the country's mammals, birds and reptiles.
Source: China Daily