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Why Conservation Won't Save the World's Forests

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Issue date: 
25 September 2010
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And why we might need to sell forests to save them
"Conservation has a place," says, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana on the final day of the Clinton Global Initiative. "Despite all [the conservation groups'] good work," he says, 50% of the world's forests are gone. "The only way to preserve forests in the long term is to find alternative uses" that make saving some of the world's most diverse and important ecosystems economically viable. And he should know -- he has agreed to a deal with Norway, as part of UN's REDD, to keep his nations' forests intact, in exchange for a healthy sum of $200 million or so. Problems with the framework for distributing funding has hampered progress, but the nature of the arrangement reflects an important principle: If we're going to successfully protect the world's forest -- and mitigate climate change -- we're going to need plenty more innovative partnerships and ideas like this. And above all, we're going to have to figure out how to make saving forests profitable. Here are some ideas.

Part of the initial rationale for the deal was that once a worldwide carbon market was established, Guyana's forest would be a valuable investment in carbon offsets. Since, as we know, no such market was established, there's been some confusion over how to proceed. Certainly, preserving forests is still a good idea, and still instrumental to preventing climate change -- but the question continues to loom as to how to sell that idea to investors.

And lest you think there's another way around that unfortunate proposition, let me repeat the stat that Jagdeo noted: 50% of the world's forests are gone, cut down by us pesky, consumptive humans. And there are more and more of us fast coming, and some of us are getting richer and richer, and demanding more and more goods -- many of which are made out of wood, and many others that require forest be chopped down to allow room for it (beef, agriculture).

This was one of the primary themes in a lively session at the Clinton Global Initiative 2010, with such luminaries as former prime minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, Nobel Prize-winning forest activist Wangari Maathi, and President Jagdeo.

Conservation efforts are worthy, noble, and everyone is glad that they're around. But the surest way to see that forests last in a globalized, capitalistic world, is to find ways to get business to profit by sustainably harvesting them or otherwise. An example mentioned in the session was Guaki Sustainable Rainforest Products, a company that sustainably farms organic yerba mate in the rainforest with the aid of indigenous peoples. Much more than that, of course, will be necessary to save the forests on a large scale.

The consensus seemed to be that a combination of an international regulatory framework, aid from developed nations, and small, localized businesses will be necessary in some combination going forward. The video below is long, yes -- but out of all the sessions at this year's CGI, it's the one most worth watching in full. It's a fascinating, often inspired conversation (skip over the first 10 minutes or so of award-giving).




Extpub | by Dr. Radut