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Successes in Reducing Deforestation and the Global Warming Pollution it Causes

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I’m now in Bonn at the United Nations climate negotiations, where the big news is that in the last week the world’s two biggest emitters – China and the United States – have announced important actions to cut their carbon pollution, especially from the coal that they burn. These steps are welcome, but they are plans, not accomplishments, and they come late compared to other countries that have already acted to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Ironically, most of these successes are in tropical developing countries, where countries’ reductions in rates of deforestation and in some cases their reforestation of cleared land have cut their net emissions of global warming pollution. Their actions have already accomplished more for the climate than the actions of many developed nations have.

Examples of such Deforestation Success Stories are detailed in a new UCS report by that name (at www.ucsusa.org/forestsuccess), which we launched at a side event here yesterday. Here are four cases that show the diversity of approaches that have worked.

  • The big reduction in emissions has been in Brazil, which has cut deforestation in the Amazon by more than 2/3 in the past 8 years. Both government and business actions were important. Federal and state governments set up protected areas and indigenous reserves that now cover over half the Amazon, with more than 20% under the control of indigenous groups. The soybean and cattle industries declared voluntary moratoria on clearing forests to make way for production, with retailers, exporters, and processors promising not to buy from ranches and farms responsible for deforestation. Strong legal action by public prosecutors enforced these moratoria, as well as existing laws against cutting forests. And Norway, through a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) agreement that has already paid Brazil over $ 670 million, showed that the international community would support successful action on deforestation with its money, not just its mouth.
  • Until the middle of the decade of the 2000s most of Brazil's global warming pollution came from deforestation ("land use change" in this graphic). However since then deforestation emissions have been cut by more than 2/3. SOURCE: Boucher et al. 2014, "Deforestation Success Stories", Figure 2.

    Till the middle of the decade of the 2000s most of Brazil’s global warming pollution came from deforestation (“land use change” in this graphic). However since then deforestation emissions have been cut by more than 2/3. SOURCE: Boucher et al. 2014, “Deforestation Success Stories”, Figure 2.

    Vietnam has increased its forest cover at the same time as its agriculture has grown rapidly. SOURCE: ©Flickr/sgendera- Harald Franzen & GIZ http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgendera/8137882386/

    Vietnam has increased its forest cover at the same time as its agriculture has grown rapidly. SOURCE: S Gendera

  • Vietnam has successfully reforested in the past few decades by transferring control to local farmers and paying them for the ecosystem services that they provide. Farmers have concentrated their production on the more fertile lands, allowing hillsides and mountainous areas to return to forest. The result is that the country has been able to increase itsforest cover while also having strong growth in agricultural production.
  • In El Salvador, much of the capital that has supported reforestation since the peace agreements of the early 1990s, has come from Salvadorans who had emigrated to escape the bloody civil war. Either by returning to the country or by sending back remittances to support their families, they allowed farmers to increase yields and productivity on the better soils. The municipalities that received the largest amounts of remittances are also the ones that have shown the largest amounts of reforestation. Another contribution to the climate has been the growth of “shade coffee” plantations covered by canopies of trees. These ecosystems, although not natural forests, nonetheless store large amounts of carbon and provide habitats for migratory birds and other plant and animals species.
  • In Kenya, the Kasigau project that connects two separate parts of Tsavo National Park has been supported by private funds from the voluntary carbon market. These credits are used to lease land from ranchers and farmers, to pay rangers, and to establish businesses, such as a clothing factory, that provides employment aside from that associated with forest clearing. Indeed, the report shows how successful efforts at reducing deforestation and supporting reforestation
    Revenues from the carbon and wildlife credits sold by the Kasigau project go to farmers and ranchers as well as community development projects.

    Revenues from the carbon and wildlife credits sold by the Kasigau project go to farmers and ranchers as well as community development projects. SOURCE: ©LisaKristine.com courtesy of Wildlife Works Carbon

    generally have gone together with economic development and community control over their resources.

These examples and several more in the report – in diverse countries such as Mexico, Tanzania, Mozambique, India, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Guyana and the central African region, indicate how the “forest transition” – countries moving from net loss to net gain of forests – is being carried out with a wide variety of approaches. Some of the areas involved are small, but others cover large extensions of tropical forest. Brazil’s success in the Amazon has already reduced global warming pollution more than the actions of any other countries, including the United States and the European Union.

The climate problem will not be solved by these kinds of actions alone, since the forest sector only accounts for about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But they show how developing can and are acting to deal with the threat of dangerous climate change. Developed countries should both support these efforts and commit to doing even better themselves!

Posted in: Food and Agriculture, Global Warming, Tropical Forests Tags: , , , ,

About the author: Doug Boucher is an expert in preserving tropical forests to curtail global warming emissions. He has been participating in United Nations international climate negotiations since 2007 and his expertise has helped shape U.S. and U.N. policies. He holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Michigan. See Doug's full bio.

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  • Vee

    Perhaps this is because people in these countries have more feeling for the world around them than we do, and realise that what we do to nature we ultimately do to ourselves. As one wise man said “man speaks of a battle with nature, but if we DID conquer nature we would find ourselves on the losing side.” Simple native folk have far more understanding of how to live in harmony with their surroundings and we could learn a great deal from them if we were more humble..

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