The importance of rainforests in a warming world is common knowledge, yet the painfully slow progress of protective initiatives such as REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) shows the difficulty such projects have in getting off the ground.
The problem is clear: 55 per cent of Amazonian rainforest predicted to be cleared, logged, damaged by drought or burned in the next twenty years, with increases in commodity and food prices driving up deforestation rates.
Public support is there in abundance. In polls, nearly half of Americans questioned and more than half of those in the U.K. and France realise that the destruction of rainforests contributes massively to annual greenhouse gas emissions. The difficulty that rainforest saving projects and similar initiatives face is not just how to gain capital and get upfront investment for conserving the rainforests, but also how to turn public awareness of the destruction into real action.
So it's good to hear that there are grassroots initiatives, such as the Prince of Wales’s Rainforest Project, which are taking matters into their own hands. The scheme aims to make rainforests more financially valuable to their host nations when alive rather than dead through payment and community compensation schemes; a concept that in the past has proved to be fraught with difficulties.
Separate diverse schemes are also attempting to achieve the same goal as the Prince’s Rainforest Project. Canopy Capital (http://canopycapital.co.uk/), the first organization to put market value on the services provided by a rainforest, focuses on driving capital to the rainforests and generating income for rainforest nations. Their partnership with the Iwokrama International Centre in Guyana will promote sustainable management and conservation of the Iwokrama rainforest reserve, creating a valuable future investment.
The Global Canopy Programme (www.globalcanopy.org/) puts similar emphasis on putting a market value on living rainforest. The organization explores and defines the economic value of forest ecosystem services, sharing their findings with Governments and finance decision-makers, ensuring rainforests are more valuable alive rather than dead.
Two of Cool Earth’s projects, Ashaninka in Peru and the Awacachi corridor in Ecuador, are now protected from logging and agriculture. They are good examples of Cool Earth’s initiatives to price deforestation out of the market. The Awacachi corridor contains rich levels of biodiversity, and the Ashaninka project in Peru is unique as Cool Earth was approached by the Ashaninka people to protect the rainforest. The reserve sees that the 50,000 hectares of rainforest, along with the local community, remain protected. (See www.coolearth.org/)
These schemes, drawing on expertise from Government, business and NGOs, attempt to find practical solutions to the problem of placing value on the rainforests when they are still alive. The belief is that rainforests, as they store carbon, create fresh water and influence climate, will be instrumental in our fight against climate change, and therefore of great value in several years’ time.
It’s not just these initiatives which are making great strides towards saving the rainforests. Amongst other recent international commitments, the Coalition for Rainforest Nations has offered to conserve its forests in exchange for 'access to international markets for emissions trading', and Norway has committed US$500m a year for five years to decrease global deforestation.
Despite an encouraging start, The Prince of Wales states that the onus is on immediate action, and that a concerted effort is required from the developed nations if we are to make any headway. The awareness raised by these projects is an achievement in itself, but is just the beginning of an initiative that could be crucial to the survival of our planet.
The rainforests, the Prince of Wales says, are to be seen as “our greatest natural utility, providing huge and irreplaceable benefits”. It’s time we started paying for this utility, without which the climate change battle will be lost.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008