Monday, July 27, 2009

Saving a Rainforest

For quite some time now, I have been seeing pictures by Rhett A. Butler; admiring them and wishing I could go to some of these locations and see the things he has seen. I have also been a fan of the site and visit it regularly. I was surprised to find that one of my favorite websites was written by Rhett A. Butler.

He has done a marvelous article (complete with incredible pics) on saving a rainforest. Rhett has graciously given me permission to reprint his article in its entirety complete with accompanying photos. The following article was completely written by Rhett A. Butler. The article is fairly long; so, I have split it into several parts. I have also included all hyperlinks that Mr. Butler has in his article.

Keep reading for part 1 of "Are We on the Brink of Saving Rainforests" by Rhett A. Butler.

Until now saving rainforests seemed like an impossible mission. But the world is now warming to the idea that a proposed solution to help address climate change could offer a new way to unlock the value of forest without cutting it down.

NOTE: See Bigg REDD for a condensed take on this concept.

Deep in the Brazilian Amazon, members of the Surui tribe are developing a scheme that will reward them for protecting their rainforest home from encroachment by ranchers and illegal loggers.

The project, initiated by the Surui themselves, will bring jobs as park guards and deliver health clinics, computers, and schools that will help youths retain traditional knowledge and cultural ties to the forest. Surprisingly, the states of California, Wisconsin and Illinois may finance the endeavor as part of their climate change mitigation programs.

As unlikely as it may sound, this collaboration could become a reality under a far-reaching initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), a climate change mitigation mechanism currently under consideration by U.S. legislators and in international discussions for a "framework" on climate change. Supporters say REDD could send billions of dollars a year to developing nations for conserving their rainforests, while preserving biodiversity; protecting ecosystem services like rainfall regulation, watershed functions, and erosion control; promoting rural development in some of the world's poorest, and in some cases, least, governed regions; and breaking a deadlock that has stalled international climate negotiations for over a decade, since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Deforestation in southern Laos (January 2009). Photos by Rhett A. Butler.

The premise of REDD is straightforward: tropical forests store roughly 25 percent of the planet's terrestrial carbon, more than 300 billion tons. When forests are cut—their vegetation burned and timber converted into wood products—much of this carbon is released in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. The clearing of 50,000 square miles of tropical forest annually accounts for roughly 20 percent of global emissions from human activities—a share larger than all the world's planes, ships, cars, and trucks combined. In other words, despite the attention given to the fuel efficiency of cars and the number of flights taken by celebrities, parking all the world's jets and cars still wouldn't offset the annual emissions from global deforestation.

But reducing deforestation is no simple effort. Forests are being destroyed as a consequence of global economic forces—demand for timber, pulpwood, beef, soybeans, and palm oil—as well as subsistence farming. Slowing or eliminating deforestation means addressing these underlying drivers by making forests valuable as living entities, rather than solely for what can be produced when they're cut. And the issue goes beyond economics. Good governance, including law enforcement, recognition of land rights, and fair distribution of benefits, is the issue that will make or break REDD.

Tropical deforestation rates from 2000-2005, ranked in descending order by the highest amount of average annual forest loss for 25 countries based on data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Thinking REDD

The idea of forestalling climate change by saving forests is not new, but it has had to win its way slowly. The Kyoto Protocol went a different direction, and critics of REDD fear it would be too complex to manage in a world economic scheme for climate rescue. (Some critics also think most plans don't do enough to address overconsumption by developed nations.

REDD suffers, like all such schemes, from the difficulty of explaining itself in terms non-specialists can understand. Carbons markets, offsets, cap-and-trade—all these have been in the language for years now, but the topics still seem esoteric to many. This "my-eyes-glaze-over" syndrome may be especially acute in the United States, whose government declined to join the Kyoto Protocol. But still, there are the Surui people—and if an Amazonian tribe can get help in saving its home forests by partnering with U.S. states, maybe the rest of us can get some handle on the idea.

What's more, the whole subject of climate change and its mitigation has gotten a renewed boost with the Obama administration's support of cap-and-trade—the concept of legally limiting a region's greenhouse-gas emissions and encouraging trade in the "credits" earned by industries that meet or exceed the standards. (A debate continues, however, over cap-and-trade vis-a-vis what are sometimes seen simply as "pay-to-pollute" offsets.)

Draining and clearing of peat forest in Central Kalimantan (May 2009). Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Stay tuned - next blog has more fascinating info and wonderful photos.


kathi said...

In the Southern US, we just swoon when we hear the name, Rhett Butler. Sounds like it's catching.

Seriously, great stuff, P.

Pippa said...

It's a great article. Thanks for the compliment, K,; but, all I did was reprint it. Rhett did all the work.