The concept of "avoided deforestation" -- whereby countries are paid to
protect forests -- is the most promising rainforest and climate change policy
development in years. It fights climate change at a low cost while preserving
other ecosystem services, safeguarding biodiversity and improving living
standards for some of the world's poorest people. Unlike other proposed forest
conservation solutions, such as "certified" forest logging of ancient forests
(primary and old-growth forests), it has the potential to maintain standing
rainforests in an intact, fully functioning condition; while meeting reasonable
local development needs.
Ecological Internet and others have long urged over-developed nations to pay
developing countries to preserve their rainforests rather than cutting them down
for timber, to grow crops or to support livestock. Forests contain 60% of the
carbon stored on Earth. Deforestation and forest diminishment account for some
25% of human caused carbon release. Protecting ancient forests would thus
greatly reduce climate change. Tropical forests cover less than 7 percent of the
Earth's total surface area but are also home to more than 50 percent of the
world’s remaining species. There is no path to global ecological sustainability
and climate change mitigation that does not include paying for widespread
maintenance of remaining ancient forests in a series of global ecological
For the first time a grouping of tropical rainforest rich countries, called the
"Forestry Eight" and controlling over 80 percent of the world's tropical
rainforests, agree and are proposing a plan to be paid to protect their
rainforests and thus reduce global warming. The alliance includes Brazil and
Indonesia, the fourth and third largest greenhouse gas emitters taking
deforestation into account. Other members include Costa Rica, Colombia, the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea and Peru. The
group is advocating billions of dollars of funding -- most likely from the
emerging carbon market -- be allocated to nations that preserve forests within
the post-Kyoto global framework, which will begin to be negotiated at the UN
conference in Bali in December.
Troublingly, many crucial details regarding how avoided deforestation payments
would work remain undefined, this threatens the potential effectiveness of the
concept, and not all "protection" schemes are equal. The concept has been
described in the "Forests Now Declaration" by the Global Canopy Programme as
both strict preservation (protection with no logging), and conservation payments
for "sustainable forest management". This is misleading.
Ancient forests cannot be logged industrially in a manner that will not
permanently disrupt carbon storage and not result in long term loss of other
ecosystem values and biodiversity. It would be disastrous for rainforest rich
countries to be paid for supposed rainforest protection and still be allowed to
log primary forests for the first time. Payments to maintain already logged
production forests in natural forest management and to avoid their outright
deforestation may be justified, but this is a different issue.
First time logging of ancient rainforests -- selective, certified, ecosystem
based or otherwise -- results in an immediate huge release of carbon, permanent
reductions in future carbon storage potential, and reductions in species numbers
and diversity. To be maximally effective, avoided deforestation climate payments
should only support strict preservation of ancient forests; and not their
"sustainable" selective logging, certified or otherwise. Small scale, community
based eco-forestry activities may well be compatible with maintaining carbon
storage, ecosystem processes, and biodiversity patterns; yet any industrial
activities must be excluded to realize the full potential of climate and
rainforest protection payments.
There are other serious concerns with the avoided deforestation and diminishment
concept that must be addressed prior to establishment. How much carbon forests
hold, how much primary forest a country has, and the effectiveness of protection
and exclusion of industrial development must be rigorously and conservatively
analyzed. And equity and fairness demands that payments are partially channeled
to landowners and communities bearing the opportunity costs of not logging local
forests, and not just governments.
Let the "Forestry Eight" know that in order to ensure carbon payments for
rainforest and climate protection are rigorous and maximally effective, they
must be made to avoid both rainforest deforestation AND diminishment, which
excludes ANY industrial development. Only equitable payments for strict
preservation will maximize climate, ecosystem, biodiversity and local benefit.
Anything less is greenwashing and will not solve anything.
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Ancient rainforests will only fully hold their carbon when strictly protected
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