Rainer Dolch remembers getting some strange looks when he first told subsistence farmers in eastern Madagascar how they could someday make money by saving forests instead of clearing them.
Dolch explained that new international agreements gave economic value to the carbon absorbed by the trees, creating an incentive to protect the forest. Previously, the only way to get money for a forest was by clearing it to sell the logs and use the land for other means.
“They would be puzzled and ask, ‘I’ll get money for leaving the forest alone?’” said Dolch, who heads Association Mitsinjo, a CI partner in restoring and protecting the Malagasy jungle. “It was something new and different.”
UN Move Benefits Local People
The concept is an important component of crucial UN negotiations on how the world will deal with climate change in coming decades. The talks focus on the major cause of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from both the energy sector and the rampant destruction of tropical forests.
Tropical forests absorb and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide to help balance the global climate.
When we burn and clear these forests at the current rate of 13 million hectares a year – an area the size of England – we send the stored carbon back into the atmosphere to exacerbate climate change.
Every year, deforestation contributes abut 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all the world’s cars, trucks and airplanes combined.
In addition, tropical forests also are the habitat of more than half the species on Earth, and the foundation for the livelihoods and culture of many of the world’s indigenous and other forest-dependent peoples.
Hundreds of millions of people are directly dependent on the fresh water, food, medicines and other resources from tropical forests, while faraway nations and people also benefit from forest resources and the role that forests play in regulating the climate and weather. When a tropical forest is destroyed, everyone feels it.
Therefore, conserving the forests and the benefits they provide humanity is an essential strategy for both stopping climate change and helping poor populations survive and prosper.
Carbon Markets and Farmers
The UN climate change negotiations are considering how to include efforts to halt tropical deforestation in a new agreement that will succeed the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.
Called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), the issue involves an immediate and holistic approach that brings multiple benefits and can begin lowering emissions now while the world works on transforming to low-carbon economies.
At the heart of REDD is the concept puzzling the farmers in Madagascar – establishing the economic value of carbon stored in tropical forests. The Kyoto Protocol set up a global market for carbon intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by allowing the trade of carbon credits.
However, it only included replanted or restored forests, while leaving out the value of maintaining the vast amounts of carbon stored in standing forests.
Forest Projects Bring Conservation Success
Now, the negotiations have been expanded to include ways for standing forests to also be eligible for carbon credits. In this way, Madagascar and other developing nations and people can realize a new source of revenue from the forests on which they have always depended.
CI and its partners have invested in projects around the world to demonstrate how this concept can provide multiple benefits – a win-win-win situation for all.
The projects in 12 countries are combining ways to conserve standing forest, restore destroyed forests and bring new revenue and jobs to local people. The projects protect the carbon stored in intact forests while growing new trees to absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – both vital to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, they train local people to manage the conservation efforts and create new jobs involving ecotourism, handicrafts and other opportunities.
Most importantly, these activities also are saving the forests and all the life they contain and nurture, which is vital for maintaining the health of the planet and all people.
READ MORE: All About Forest Carbon Offsets
READ MORE: Protecting Forests: A Solution to Climate Change