Time for a rainforest bailout?

Deforestation is a big deal: logging and land clearance are responsible for almost a fifth of global carbon emissions. It doesn’t matter how many hybrids we drive or how many solar panels we install on our roofs - if we can’t persuade developing nations to quit cutting down their trees, it’ll be all but impossible to halt global warming.

Fortunately, the Brits have come up with a solution; a new report by British government adviser Johan Eliasch sets out a roadmap for halving global deforestation emissions by 2020, and making the sector entirely carbon-neutral by 2030. The details are complex, but the gist is simple: wealthy countries should club together and start paying tropical nations to preserve their forests.

Eliasch reckons we can do that relatively easily by integrating rain-forests into the global carbon market, effectively allowing developing nations to sell credits in exchange for leaving their woodlands intact. By tapping into existing carbon-market financing, the report claims, it should be possible to slash deforestation rates by 75 percent by 2030 at a cost of between $17 billion and $33 billion a year. Tack on a few reforestation and restoration programs, and achieving total carbon neutrality should be a piece of cake.

Of course, $33 billion a year isn’t pocket change, especially at a time when the global financial system is going down the spout. But it’s chicken-feed compared to the total economic cost of deforestation, which a recent study pegged at around $5 trillion a year. And protecting forests is vastly cheaper than most other means of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions; Eliasch estimates that a large-scale save-the-trees program would halve the total cost of bringing global emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels.

There are a few caveats, of course: like any major trading system, a forestry market will require careful calibration and regulation. We’ll need to ensure, too, that the market is seen as a supplement to existing emissions-reduction measures, rather than a replacement; corporate polluters shouldn’t be given a free pass to churn out smog at home simply because they’ve bought the deeds to a few acres of far-off rain-forest.

Still, there are plenty of good ideas in the Eliasch report. And if the US can take a cue from Gordon Brown when it comes to bailing out the banking system, shouldn’t we be willing to listen to his ideas on the environment, too?

* To read the Eliasch Review in full, click here (pdf).

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It is about time someone took action - this should be a major concertn of a new administration - also, for the important source of potentail live saving drugs yet to be discovered in that incubater called a rain forest - having been there (Cost Rica) I am amazed someone like Bill Gates has not taken an interest in buying/leasing/saving rainforests

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