Paying Developing Countries Not to Burn Forests

Indonesian students look at the wooden wall which was cut down by a Greenpeace activist. i i

hide captionIndonesian students look at the wooden wall which was cut down by a Greenpeace activist during a protest against deforestation in Jakarta.

Ahmad Zamroni/AFP/Getty Images
Indonesian students look at the wooden wall which was cut down by a Greenpeace activist.

Indonesian students look at the wooden wall which was cut down by a Greenpeace activist during a protest against deforestation in Jakarta.

Ahmad Zamroni/AFP/Getty Images

Many industrialized nations are trying to use less coal, oil and natural gas to lower carbon dioxide levels, which is warming the atmosphere and changing the Earth's climate. But one-fifth of all greenhouse gases comes from forests that are cut down and burned to make way for crops or pasture.

Now there is a movement to get countries with big forests to slow the rate of cutting by paying them.

When a forest is burned to make room for a soybean field or a cattle pasture, for instance, the carbon in those trees goes up into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas. As a result, burning forests creates a huge pulse of the gas.

The international treaty that limits greenhouse gases, the Kyoto Protocol, doesn't do anything directly about deforestation. It is aimed at factories and power plants in industrialized countries.

Thus, the new idea was born; it was first floated by developing countries: Why not pay them to slow down their deforestation. In the process, after the carbon that is kept earthbound as a result is tallied, it can be sold as a carbon credit to anyone who wants to offset their own carbon dioxide emissions.

Supporters of the "avoided deforestation" idea also say that in the effort to slow climate change, it could help remake developing countries from spectators into first-string players.

"Every year in tropical countries we lose about an area of forest about the size of New York state," said Peter Frumhoff, of the advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The sum total of those clearings is that it contributes about 20 percent of the heat trapping gases into the atmosphere that cause global warming."

One group that has emerged to represent the developing countries is the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. Led by Kevin Conrad, a young business school graduate born and raised in Papua, New Guinea, the coalition tries to offer incentives for its members to keep their plush forest lands.

"What was driving deforestation was a global market for cows or a global market for coffee," Conrad said. "Nobody could compete head to head with the money a country was making elsewhere, so carbon was the first time we had a chance, a global market that could compete head to head with these other markets."

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