'Rich must pay to save forests'
Robin Pagnamenta and Lewis Smith | October 16, 2008
WEALTHY nations should pay dozens of the world's poorest countries up to pound stg. 19 billion ($47.6billion) a year to preserve their rainforests, according to a report commissioned by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The cash would fund a scheme that rewarded tropical countries for preserving the stock of carbon in their remaining forests. Proceeds would go to local communities.
"We are living on borrowed time," said the report's author, Johann Eliasch, a Swedish multi-millionaire businessman and anti-deforestation campaigner who was appointed as Mr Brown's special representative on deforestation and clean energy last year.
"Deforestation will continue as long as cutting down trees is more economic than preserving them."
Rainforest destruction is a key contributor to global warming, accounting for one-fifth of carbon emissions.
The British proposal is similar to a $200 million Australian initiative to reverse deforestation in developing nations, announced in 2007 by the then federal environment minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Eliasch, who owns a 162,000ha tract of the Brazilian Amazon and is a former deputy treasurer of the British Conservative Party, said the scheme would be monitored using satellite imagery.
The project would need to raise between $17 billion ($24.4billion) and $33 billion a year to halve the destruction of the world's forests by 2020. Current funding to tackle global deforestation is about $564 million, the report added.
The goal would be to make the global forest sector carbon neutral by 2030, in other words, to balance all the forest lost annually with the planting of new forest.
Green groups, however, criticised the plans for failing to respect the rights of indigenous forest peoples, and for creating an opportunity for polluting nations simply to pay their way out of commitments to cut their own carbon emissions.
Andy Tait, head of biodiversity at Greenpeace, said the proposals risked allowing forests "to become a get out of jail free card for the big polluters".
Other critics said the system would be vulnerable to corruption and could prompt human rights abuses as governments and landowners resorted to force to protect forests.
"This scheme has the potential to cause even greater conflict over forests," said Tom Pickens, of Friends of the Earth.
Mr Eliasch said the scheme would take five years to start up in 40 nations, including Cameroon, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. He proposed that it be included in any carbon trading agreement reached at a meeting of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next year.
Since 1980, global forest cover is estimated to have fallen by 225 million hectares because of human action. In the tropics, an area about the size of England is cleared every year.