What is the Ecological Footprint?
The Ecological Footprint is a resource accounting tool that measures how much biologically productive land and sea is used by a given population or activity, and compares this to how much land and sea is available. Productive land and sea areas support human demands for food, fiber, timber, energy, and space for infrastructure. These areas also absorb the waste products from the human economy. The Ecological Footprint measures the sum of these areas, wherever they physically occur on the planet. The Ecological Footprint is used widely as a management and communication tool by governments, businesses, educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations.
What does the Ecological Footprint measure?
Ecological Footprint accounts answer a specific research question: how much of the biological capacity of the planet is demanded by a given human activity or population? To answer this question, the Ecological Footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area an individual, a city, a country, a region, or all of humanity uses to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb the waste it generates with today’s technology and resource management practices. This demand on the biosphere can be compared to biocapacity, a measure of the amount of biologically productive land and water available for human use. Biologically productive land includes areas such as cropland, forest, and fishing grounds, and excludes deserts, glaciers, and the open ocean.
A WILD SUCCESS: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF BIRD RECOVERY UNDER THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
The Endangered Species Act is the world’s strongest law protecting animals and plants on the brink of extinction. It has saved more than 99 percent of species under its care from extinction. Less well studied, however, is how well it is moving imperiled species toward recovery, the Act's ultimate goal... CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
Unfortunately, I won't be in the country for this. Please, will anyone march on my behalf? I beg of you! I'll pay you with stable climate patterns, reduced infectious diseases, reduced water shortages, fewer biodiversity extinctions, sustainable agriculture, beaches which won't drown under water, fewer invasive species such as malaria in the U.S., and healthy forests. For further information about the impacts of climate change, please visit https://www.epa.gov/climate-impacts
The Heroes of Wildlife Conservation. What can you do from far away? Support legislation and politicians who are actually interested in wildlife protection, donate to organizations fighting poaching, and volunteer with conservation groups. More ideas.
For Rangers on the Front Lines of Anti-Poaching Wars, Daily Trauma
Unsung heroes face daunting challenges.
By Laurel Neme, for National Geographic
In May 2008 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 80 Mai Mai militia ambushed a unit of 12 wildlife rangers on patrol near Rwindi in Virunga National Park, wounding Habimana Buzara in the leg as he covered their retreat.
The rangers watched helplessly as the rebel group—aiming to terrorize the unit—tortured their injured comrade and kicked him in the head until he died. They buried their friend later that day, and the next morning they were back at work.
I suppose this is a bit controversial - or it's a sensitive topic to some. But I find it worth mentioning a few articles and resources out there about the impact of outdoor cats and TNR (trap, neuter, release) on wildlife. Unfortunately, cats make great house pets but they are terribly harmful to wildlife when left outside. Thoughts? Click each of the photos below for the associated article.
The incredible plan to make money grow on trees (REDD: Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation)
Available as podcast as well (here).
Original post at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/redd-papua-new-guinea-money-grow-on-trees
By Sam Knight
Tuesday 24 November 2015
One day about five years ago, Frank Nolwo, a compact, quietly spoken boat skipper from the upper reaches of the Sepik river, in northern Papua New Guinea, woke up and headed into town. Nolwo, who is 42, has nine children. He was adding an extension to his house, and needed to buy some building materials.
You do not just pop to the shops if you live in the upper Sepik. Nolwo left Kagiru, his village, in the early morning. Like other isolated clutches of palm-roofed houses on the river, Kagiru has no electricity, no mobile phone signal, and no road connecting it to anywhere else. Even by Papua New Guinean standards, the region is regarded as hot, poor and difficult to live in. When it rains, the place floods. When there is a drought, the creeks and streams dry up, stranding people and their canoes. It takes days to walk anywhere. For powerful, almost unarguable, geographic reasons, life in the upper Sepik has resisted meaningful economic development for thousands of years. There are lots, and lots, of crocodiles.
After a day on the water, Nolwo reached Ambunti, a large village of around 2,000 people, where he spent the night. The next morning, he motored on. Nolwo was a prosperous and influential local figure. As well as running his boat, he was the chairman of a district of more than 30 small villages that included Kagiru. Even so, the trip was a major undertaking. The fuel alone was going to cost around £200. At around lunchtime on the second day, Nolwo moored his boat and got on a truck bound for Wewak, the provincial capital and his destination, a four-hour drive away on the coast. It was at the market in Wewak, buying hardware, that Nolwo ran into another district chairman from the upper Sepik, named David Salio, who invited him to a meeting in a local hotel about carbon trading.
The In Wewak Boutique hotel is the smartest place in town. Set on a bluff just outside the centre it is a white, two-storey building with a small swimming pool and verandas that look out over the South Pacific. The meeting that night was organised by Stephen Hooper, a former Aussie rules football player and entrepreneur. A huge, broad man with a background in mining, Hooper had been working on and off in Papua New Guinea since 2007, first on a timber project, and then on schemes to sell carbon credits derived from forests.
Nolwo sat and listened. He had been to high school and remembered the idea of photosynthesis, so what Hooper was saying about leaves and carbon and oxygen was not completely bizarre, but it was pretty far out. The gist was this: because of pollution in countries far away, and something happening to the atmosphere, people along the Sepik river were going to be able to start selling the clean air produced by their trees. And by the sound of things, they might get very rich.
“It was surprising to me,” Nolwo told me recently. “It was something I hadn’t ever heard before. Like, I can catch fish and sell them for money. But this one was totally different.” He was intrigued. Four other local chairmen had already signed up with their communities. Nolwo decided to think about it. He bought what he needed for his house and started the long journey back to Kagiru.
Back on the water, Nolwo looked at the skinny, grey-barked trees set back from the muddy banks, thickening into forests on the hills behind. They framed the powerful and unforgiving landscape that he had known all his life: sources of food and fuel and spiritual energy, where men and women would spend a few days on their own from time to time, to prepare for rituals, and to come of age. Now he found himself considering the trees in a new light. Nolwo’s mind filled not only with financial possibilities, but with the chance to contribute to a project of global importance. “This is to save the life of the world,” he thought. When he got home, Nolwo explained the whole idea to his wife.
Beautiful in Theory
The first time you hear about REDD+, it tends to make a big impression. The acronym stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. It is the UN’s plan to bring forests into the fight against climate change: to measure their contribution to stabilising the atmosphere, and to pay for it.
REDD+ is, among many other things, a beautiful idea. There are three trillion trees on Earth and they are perfectly made to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Every year, the world’s forests and bogs are thought to absorb around 1.6 gigatonnes of our 10 gigatonnes of manmade emissions. Of course we are degrading these ecosystems at a terrible rate. Practices such as cutting down trees, draining swamps and burning brush, all to make way for agriculture, produce anything between 10% and 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in their own right. In an era of climate change, destroying forests is one of the most harmful things we can do. It takes one of our best hopes of controlling the damage and sets it against us. It is what is known in the pidgin of Papua New Guinea as a “double buggerup”.
REDD+ promises to turn the situation around. Given how valuable these biological systems are – forests are “carbon capture and storage” technology in a cheap yet wondrous form – the idea is that we should pay for what they do. Where intact wildernesses remain in developing countries, scientists should figure out how much carbon they soak up and store, and governments and communities should be incentivised to preserve them rather than turn them over to asphalt or industrial farming. On our battered, warming planet, a tree should be worth as much standing as felled.
The mechanics of how to do this are complicated, no doubt, but when you think about it, not beyond the capabilities of 21st-century science and bureaucrats: satellites and ground inventories to monitor deforestation, carbon markets, offset payments, and international aid to channel money from richer, polluting countries to poorer, tree-protecting ones. A vision of this future has entranced UN climate change talks since REDD was first proposed in 2005. At a cost of around $6m each, 51 countries, from Ethiopia to Ecuador, have spent the last five years preparing for the programme. Some $7bn has been pledged to get the system up and running, and REDD+ is one of the elements that negotiators are pushing to include in the grand treaty that the world is seeking at the Paris climate change summit, which starts next week.
If the whole thing works as it is supposed to, the benefits would be remarkable. Carbon emissions would go down and forests would be saved – the same forests that shelter 77% of the world’s threatened bird species, supply water to a third of the world’s large cities, and are home to 60 million indigenous people, among the most vulnerable communities on Earth. Money would flow from north and south and new kinds of forest economies, based on living things and biodiversity, rather than denuded landscapes, would arise. Sociologists sometimes call climate change a “wicked problem” because of all the noxious, mutually reinforcing elements that go into it. On paper, REDD+ sometimes has the appearance of a wicked solution for all the good that it might do.
And that is its weakness too. Some theories just do not work in practice, and almost from its inception, REDD+ has been criticised as impractical, financially unsound and a diversion from mankind’s number-one priority of curbing our consumption of fossil fuels. In some quarters, the scheme represents everything that is wrong about the UN approach to tackling climate change: theoretical, multilateral, unwieldy, rather than something that might actually have a bearing on the nitty‑gritty, day-to-day skirmishes over land and resources that are quickly putting the health of the planet beyond reach.
“It is bonkers,” Chris Lang, a blogger who has covered the programme since 2008, told me, “on so many levels.” The question is whether that is precisely what genuine solutions to climate change are going to look like. No one ever said it was going to be easy.
The Birth of REDD
One of the most bonkers things about REDD+ has always been that it was dreamed up in Papua New Guinea. In Wewak, in fact. Not on the day that Frank Nolwo came to town, but years earlier, in the spring of 2003. One afternoon, the former prime minister, and father of the country’s independence, Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, was walking along the town’s beach with a charismatic business student called Kevin Conrad.
Conrad was in his mid-30s. The son of American missionaries, he had grown up near the village of Hayfield in the Sepik – he was born under a tree, he liked to say – and had known Somare since he was a boy. After graduating from high school, Conrad had gone to study in California, working at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena and investment banks before taking a job with Angco, Papua New Guinea’s largest coffee exporter. Now he was studying for an MBA in London and New York, and working informally as an adviser to Somare.
That day, the grand chief had forests on his mind. The country has the world’s third-largest rainforest, after the Congo and the Amazon. It is a kind of pleasure-dome of biological diversity: the haunt of 19,000 known plant species, tree kangaroos and the cassowary, a 6ft-tall flightless bird. But its trees are commercially valuable too, and for decades the country has been home to a notoriously corrupt logging industry. In 1987, a national commission described timber companies “roaming the countryside with the self-assurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws”.
Sixteen years later, a follow-up report had concluded that “the robber barons are now as active as they ever were”, and Somare was under pressure from the international community to do something. Estimating that 70% of Papua New Guinea’s timber exports were produced illegally in some way, the World Bank offered the nation a one-time loan of $17m to suspend its logging industry altogether. But that was nowhere near the royalties that the government received every year – which were closer to $50m – and which Somare viewed as essential to the development of the country.
On the beach in Wewak, Somare put the problem to his young adviser. “Sir Michael said, ‘Actually I agree with what the World Bank is offering in principle,’” Conrad recalled. But Papua New Guinea could not afford to give up logging on those terms. The country is poor. People get by on average earnings of about £4 a day. Somare challenged Conrad to come up with an alternative way to make money from its forests.
Conrad spent two years working out his answer. He had no background in deforestation or climate science or economic development, but he was a quick study. He read about “payments for ecosystem services” – an idea that had been trialled in Costa Rica to reward landowners for maintaining healthy waterways, or bird habitats. He learned about carbon markets, in which companies support pollution-preventing schemes on international exchanges in order to offset their emissions. Conrad pondered the astonishing quantity of carbon that must be stored in Papua New Guinea’s forests, which cover 370,000 square kilometres, an area comfortably larger than Italy. He pored over the dense, forbidding texts of the UNFCCC, the UN’s mammoth climate change negotiating process, and he came up with an idea: could a country such as Papua New Guinea be paid to keep its forests intact? Could it sell, as carbon credits, the millions upon millions of tonnes of emissions that would be saved if it did not cut down its trees?
Conrad was interested in money. He was determined to upend conventional thinking about aid and conservation. Growing up in the Sepik, he had seen foreign NGOs come with vague ideas about preserving the wilderness and no money for the communities that lived there. “It frustrated me,” he said. “It seemed to me they were asking them to continue to be poor, even though they had a world-class asset.” In November 2005, with Somare’s blessing, and the support of Costa Rica, Conrad submitted an 11-page proposal to the UN’s climate change summit, which had gathered in Montreal.
The timing, and the character, of Conrad’s idea could not have been more potent. Calculating the financial implications of climate change, and devising market-based mechanisms to address the problem, was precisely where the smart thinking was at. In 2006, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change identified tackling deforestation as a “highly cost-effective way” to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Soon after, REDD got its acronym, and began to gain traction in the UNFCCC. The World Bank got involved. In 2008, a British government review into the future of the world’s forests, conducted by Johan Eliasch, a Swedish businessman and environmentalist, predicted that a well-designed REDD system could cut global deforestation by up to 75% by 2030.
There was a political edge to REDD, as well, that made it stand out in the schismed world of the climate change talks. The main reason why the UNFCCC has been stuck all these years is because the world’s developing countries accuse industrialised nations of wrecking the planet, and they want hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation. The rich countries, for their part, observe that almost two-thirds of greenhouse gasses now come from the developing world, and that they are not going to make any deep cuts, and certainly not part with any money, until everyone agrees to reduce their emissions.
REDD ignored this standoff. From day one, the idea was that poor countries such as Papua New Guinea would be happy to curb their emissions by preserving their forests in return for money. (Around 70% of Papua New Guinea’s carbon emissions come from logging.) “That was game-changing,” Conrad said. The commercial straightforwardness of REDD threatened the deadlock that suited major players at the talks. “The US didn’t want it. The US wanted the status quo, which was that they wanted to do nothing.”
Conrad himself personified the dynamic, ideologically versatile, nature of what he was proposing. He was hard to pin down, exactly: based in New York, but representing Papua New Guinea; good looking, comfortable in the spotlight, fluent in the language of markets and technology and “paradigm shifts”, while able to tell stories of his humble childhood in the Sepik. In 2007, he made news around the world when he shamed the Bush administration for blocking progress at the final plenary session of the Bali climate change summit. “If you’re not willing to lead,” said Conrad, addressing thousands of delegates, “then get out of the way.” The sight of tiny Papua New Guinea facing down the United States made him something of a hero at the negotiations.
I first met Conrad around this time. It was during a week of tense, soporific talks in Bonn in the run-up to the disastrous Copenhagen summit of 2009, and he stuck out a mile. He was like a Hollywood actor playing the part of UN climate change negotiator. He talked about how the sea had risen to submerge a tree in Wewak, where he used to make out with his girlfriend, and boasted about how he and his allies – by this point Conrad was leading a group known as the Coalition for Rainforest Nations – were running circles around their enemies at the talks. “That’s because we actually know how to get something done,” he said. In the wreckage of Copenhagen, REDD was one of the few elements of the UN process to emerge with its momentum intact. In 2010, Norway and Indonesia signed the world’s first major REDD deal. It was worth $1bn.
The Carbon Craze
Back in Papua New Guinea, however, things had not gone exactly to plan. Since the first visits of white traders in the 19th century, and a fevered gold rush in the 1930s, the sheer difficulty of the country – its ravines, jungles, and history of cannibalism – has acted as a magnet to adventurers and unlikely schemes. It is as if the country’s somewhat virgin, somewhat violent quality is a guarantee that riches must lie there somewhere, and between 2008 and 2009 as many as 90 foreign “carbon developers” descended, determined to unlock the value waiting in its trees.
The international publicity courted by Somare and Conrad created a demand that Papua New Guinea could not meet. An Office of Climate Change & Carbon Trade was set up and promptly overwhelmed by proposals for REDD schemes that it had no way to administer. The idea existed on paper, that was all. On flights to the capital, Port Moresby, Conrad would find himself surrounded. “I would have six or seven different groups come to me on the plane, pitching me,” he said.
Out in the bush, encounters between the carbon developers and forest clans took on an ugly, exploitative aspect. Papua New Guinea’s constitution gives communities strong land rights, but around a third of the population is illiterate. Fanciful notions of the carbon craze caught on among many Papua New Guineans, who had no way to conceptualise the trading of a gas said to be stored in their trees. People talked of huge ships, with great bulbous tanks, lining up along the coast to suck the air from the forests inland. Markets started selling plastic bags, to go and collect carbon. Villagers spoke of “sky money” and worried that Papua New Guinea might run out of oxygen. In early 2009, the director of the new climate change department, a schoolfriend of Conrad’s named Theo Yasause, was suspended for allegedly printing his own carbon credits. He was later imprisoned for shooting a man outside a nightclub. “The mood got out of control,” Conrad admitted.
Papua New Guinea was not the only place where early REDD experiments went wrong. In the Amazon, there were reports of “carbon cowboys” displacing communities from ancestral lands to make way for schemes being paid for by powerful corporations to offset their emissions. In southern Brazil, for example, villagers living next to the Guaraqueçaba Climate Action Project – an $18m scheme funded by General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power – found themselves blocked from hunting, fishing or tending their forest gardens by local environmental police, known as the Green Force.
NGOs and governments reported these horror stories to the UN climate talks. Forest campaigners accustomed to working with indigenous landowners were not surprised. When money and trees mix, it is normally local people who get screwed. To its critics, the early troubles of REDD illustrated two fundamental problems in its design. The first was that Conrad’s central insight was an abstraction. The idea that developing countries should be paid for the emissions that would have been caused if they had cut down their trees was a hypothetical. How do you measure, and price, something that did not happen? The concept was mind-bending enough in international meetings of forests experts, let alone in parts of the world with weak governments, disputed land tenure and uncertain notions of what is going on in their forests in the first place.
Second, and more profoundly, REDD came across as a distraction. It was something that sounded impressive, and would involve a huge amount of time, money and effort but it was, essentially, a glorified carbon offset scheme that would allow rich countries to continue to pollute, as long as they could afford to pay poor people not to cut down their trees. “Through REDD you can give the impression that not only are you solving deforestation, you are addressing climate change, without doing the difficult thing of actually leaving fossil fuels in the ground,” said Lang, the blogger. “If we don’t stop climate change, the forests are all going to burn down anyway.”
In December 2010, REDD was rebranded as “REDD+”. It lost its earlier, single-minded focus on reducing emissions and carbon markets and was expanded take a more holistic view of the value of forests and the lives of the people who dwell in them. Activities that could now be funded under the programme came to include “non-carbon benefits” such as “opportunities for wealth creation and wellbeing”.
Conrad found himself increasingly marginalised on the international stage. His earlier dynamism now read as high-handedness and arrogance. And while REDD+ retains his core idea of paying nations to preserve their trees, he resents its gradual diffusion over the years. “It’s all about getting everybody to hold hands in the forest and sing Kumbaya,” he told me. “It has been frustrating.” The carbon craze in Papua New Guinea damaged him too. In 2012, Conrad was fired as the country’s climate change ambassador. Since then, he has been representing Panama in the talks.
At home on the Sepik, Frank Nolwo did not know about any of this. After the meeting in Wewak, he discussed selling carbon with the people of Kagiru, and then more broadly across his district. In 2011, the clans signed up, authorising Hooper, the Australian developer, to sell carbon credits on their behalf. After the chaos of a few years earlier, the government in Papua New Guinea had authorised five official pilot projects in the country, of which Hooper’s planned scheme in the Sepik – known as April Salumei – was the most advanced. With the inclusion of Nolwo’s district, the project came to cover an area of 6,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Norfolk.
A scientist flew in from New Zealand to calculate the amount of carbon in the trees. At first Nolwo thought someone would arrive with containers and take the stuff away. But he soon learned it would just happen on a market somewhere. “I knew that when carbon was traded we would start to receive the money,” he told me. “My understanding was that it would take some time.” He began to wait, and hope.
And that is more or less where the rest of the world has got to with REDD+: waiting, hoping, wondering if this bewitching idea can possibly work. Before I travelled to Papua New Guinea last month to see how the programme is unfolding in the land of its birth, David Nussbaum, the chief executive of WWF in the UK, reminded me of the promise that remains, glinting, in Conrad’s idea. “The prize is that we preserve an indefinite carbon sink, that we help mitigate climate change, that we help secure livelihoods that are constructive and positive for very large numbers of people,” he said. “There is an awful lot of people who stand to win if we can get this right.” On the other hand, there are such things as ideas that are impossible to realise, and they do not help anyone at all.
The Appeal of Logging
I landed in Port Moresby at dawn on a Friday morning. There was a drift of smoke curling among the iron rooftops of a small settlement across the highway from the guesthouse where I was staying. There had been a fight the night before. A highlander had been shortchanged at the local market, and someone was stabbed with an umbrella. Things had escalated, and a few houses got burned down.
I listened to this, a little stunned and jet-lagged, and found myself staring at a pair of hills rising in the distance. Port Moresby is a scatter of neighbourhoods, rather than a continuous city. Unfinished apartment blocks stand among bare, brown slopes. These are stripped clean of anything that might possibly resemble a tree. That’s because Papua New Guineans consume about 1.8 cubic metres of firewood a year – about the same as Europeans did, before we started burning coal.
One of the easiest things to forget, living in a deforested nation, is that people cut down trees to improve their lives. “To convert millions of acres of wildwood into farmland was unquestionably the greatest achievement of any of our ancestors,” wrote Oliver Rackham in his history of the British countryside in 1986. And he was not talking about the Romans, or the Saxons or the Industrial Revolution. More than half of Britain’s original woodland, stumps and all, was probably gone by 500BC. Wild forests are magnificent, but they are also incompatible with lots of things that human societies like to do. In the 1990s, a Scottish geographer, Alexander Mather, coined the phrase “forest transition” to describe – roughly speaking – how nations cut down their trees, realise they have cut down their trees, and start, eventually, haltingly, to plant trees again.
Papua New Guinea has not gone through its forest transition yet. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, it is probably at stage two, known as “frontier conditions”, where things really start to speed up. According to the government, some 15m of its 37m remaining hectares of forest are currently earmarked for timber production. But as of now, all is not lost. Recent satellite data shows that 80% of the country has trees growing on it. From the windows of a plane, the landscape looks, most of the time, as if it has had a chunky, woolly green rug thrown over it.
On a good day, this is what makes the country appear to be the perfect test case for REDD+, and for the UN’s broader vision of “green economies”, in which developing countries manage to avoid the same fossil-fuel burning, tree-cutting path that the rest of us have followed. “If it is going to work anywhere it has to work in Papua New Guinea,” the UN’s resident coordinator, Roy Trivedy, told me. “Papua New Guinea is one of a very, very small number of countries in the world that has a really big choice to make about a development model that is different to the normal one.”
The rest of us have a stake in that decision too, of course. If Papua New Guinea manages to save the largest rainforest in the Pacific, then the planet will benefit. But what sacrifices will it have to make along the way? Some 85% of Papua New Guineans still live in rural areas. Small-scale farming to feed a growing population is one of the major drivers of deforestation. The place is crying out for modern agriculture and decent roads. A big conceptual problem with REDD+ and “green economies” in general is imagining how, exactly, a country can ever become prosperous and industrious if it is constrained from clearing and draining its land. Even environmental activists struggle with this. “When I feel nationalistic, any opportunities to develop – [even] if it means chopping some trees down – you have to do it,” Thomas Paka, the chairman of the Eco-Forestry Forum, the country’s leading umbrella group for forest NGOs, told me.
This historic trade off between deforestation and economic development is REDD+’s biggest obstacle. The international logging industry knows this, and its opposition to the programme has made it an unusual bedfellow – to put it mildly – with forest campaigners who also hate the scheme. Bob Tate, a wiry Australian, runs the Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association, which represents the country’s Malaysian-controlled timber companies. He warned me about defamation when I turned on my tape recorder and then said: “Kevin Conrad is the biggest con spiv merchant this country has ever seen.” Tate described REDD+ as a “never ending donor project” that would prevent Papua New Guinea from ever realising its economic potential. “All you natives can get back in the bush and live in poverty and we’ll give you a bit of pocket money,” he said. “That is how the UN run it.”
It is hard to exaggerate just how bad the reputation of the logging industry is in Papua New Guinea, and yet it still exercises the hopes of many isolated communities as the only way to obtain a road, a bridge, a school and a smattering of income from royalty payments. Indeed, a central reason why Stephen Hooper was able to launch his REDD+ project in the Sepik river in the first place – and the source of its avoided emissions – was that most of the communities had agreed to have the area logged in 1996. Talking to government officials in Papua New Guinea, I often sensed that they saw a hazy, undesirable connection between deforestation and progress. Logging is ugly, but at least it is real. And there are kickbacks all along the way. Late one afternoon, I ended up at the headquarters of Papua New Guinea’s forest authority, which has 800 officers, short on vehicles and petrol, to monitor the entire country. “Everyone hates the logging companies,” a senior official told me. “But what is the alternative?” He paused. “And besides, our ministers, they like Malaysians.”
The Carbon in the Trees
This is the development dilemma, more or less, for which Kevin Conrad dreamed up REDD. A decade later, he remains adamant that the only way it will ever work is if carbon schemes can actually put as much money in people’s pockets as raw logs. Well, how much carbon is out there in the trees? And what could it be possibly be worth? Early one morning, I flew to Madang, another town on the country’s northern coast, to find out.
George Weiblen, a botanist from the University of Minnesota, met me at the airport. Weiblen, who is 46, has been studying Papua New Guinea’s trees since he first visited the country as an amazed and terrified graduate student in the early 1990s. He and his research partner, a Czech entomologist named Vojtech Novotny, were besieged by business offers during the carbon craze just over five years ago. They steered clear, and have largely stayed out of the sensitive politics of REDD+ ever since. But they happen to possess some of the most detailed data ever compiled about Papua New Guinea’s trees, including how much carbon they contain.
In 2010, Weiblen and Novotny established a 50-hectare rainforest research plot about 100km west of Madang, as part of a network of international sites administered by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Over the next three years, researchers – mostly local villagers – proceeded to count, measure, and record the stem of every tree in the plot more than 1cm wide. They found a total of 288,204 stems and just over 500 tree species inside the 5km x 1km plot – around 10 times the number of tree species native to Britain. “The amount of data was sort of beyond my comprehension,” said Weiblen.
Last month, Weiblen was driving out to inspect the site. Operating in Papua New Guinea means spending a lot of time, and money, worrying about life’s essential components: food, fuel, water, security. (Earlier this year, three men attacked Weiblen’s car with a home-made catapult). We ran errands in Madang for an hour or two, picking up rice, sunscreen and spicy food for camp. At one point we parked up at the town’s main betel nut market, the mild stimulant that is ubiquitous in Papua New Guinea, which was the location of a cholera outbreak a few years ago. I asked Weiblen if many students from Minnesota volunteered to come out and work on his projects. “The ones whose eyes light up,” he said, “I am particularly suspicious of.”
The drive took us out to the west. It wasn’t long before we left the tarmac, and were on sand roads cut since the 1970s by logging companies as they have penetrated deeper and deeper into the forest frontier. Weiblen, a tall, bookish figure who has a habit of cackling suddenly, normally about some mishap or another, told me about a Polish graduate student who nearly fell out of a balloon in a crazy scheme to study the tops of trees. As we neared the research site, we entered an active logging concession and saw stacks of trunks of dull red kwila – Papua New Guinea’s most valuable tropical hardwood – lined up by the side of the road. “That’s the good stuff,” said Weiblen. The timber in a single mature kwila tree is worth around $10,000.
We spent the night in Wanang, the nearest village to the research plot, and continued the journey on foot the following day. Dressed in shorts and the green singlet of one of Papua New Guinea’s rugby league teams, Weiblen walked fast among the roots and draped vines that hung down from the trees above. Since the summer, Papua New Guinea has been experiencing its worst El Niño drought since 1997, and Weiblen was taken aback by the lack of moisture in the air, and the sunlight piercing through the canopy. Dry leaves fell from the sky. “This is just weird,” he said. Every few minutes he would stop to point out one rainforest curiosity or another: the great buttressed trunks of 30-metre high mon trees, or the recent scar of a landslide, covered in a fresh bed of clematis. Huge butterflies floated by. Weiblen stepped over a stream. “We have the oddest leeches,” he said. “They basically feed on your eyes.”
Getting a snapshot of the amount of carbon in the trees, it turns out, is one of the simpler things to measure in a rainforest. All you really need is a respectable sample of tree trunk widths, taken at 130cm from the ground – a measurement known as DBH (diameter at breast height) in the forestry trade. Once you have the DBH, you enter it into an allometric equation, a formula devised by biologists to calculate the size of the rest of a living organism, along with the wood density of each species. In the case of kwila (Intsia bijuga), a mature tree with a girth of around 50cm will have what botanists call an “above ground living biomass” of just under two tonnes. Half of that is deemed to be carbon, which works out at one tonne per tree.
Using the data from the research plot, Weiblen’s team came up with a figure of 105 tonnes of carbon per hectare in Papua New Guinea’s lowland rainforest, closely agreeing – to within 5 tonnes – with other studies. The complicated part, when it comes to REDD+, is extrapolating samples like this over larger areas and time. Research in Wanang has shown that the amount of carbon in the trees can vary from between 50 to 175 tonnes per hectare within the space of a few kilometres – creating an incentive for carbon developers to try and game the figures in their particular stretch of forest. Even less is known about how trees retain and release their carbon over the course of years and decades. Papua New Guinea’s rainforests, for example, are unstable. Because of earthquakes, floods and landslides, their trees have mortality rates twice as high as other parts of the world. While this may increase the biodiversity of the forests, it means that they also hold less carbon. Based on biomass studies, Papua New Guinea’s lowland rainforests might contain as little as half the carbon per hectare of their equivalents in Africa and Asia.
Does that make them less valuable? Less worth saving? One morning, in the research plot with Weiblen, I got tangled up in these questions. On the one hand, the science of measuring the carbon content of trees appeared not very complicated at all. Laborious, but totally achievable. Around me, the trunk of every tree I could see was looped with aluminium wire, with a numbered dogtag hanging from it. On the other hand, monitoring and monetising the actual carbon cycle over time in these places – the fungi were breathing, the leaves were rotting, the trees were breathing, vines were photosynthesising, every conceivable surface was covered in ants, also breathing – seemed almost beyond reason. Because of the drought, the air tasted subtly of smoke. A thousand fires were burning in the forest, releasing untold tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Would someone pay for that?
I tried to interest Weiblen in these matters, but he looked at me, unblinking. “I don’t care,” he said. For people who work, live and research day to day in forests, the abstractions and ambitions of REDD+ can seem terribly remote. (Weiblen, for instance, is busy trying to get his research site formally protected by the provincial government and to raise funding for his next tree census). And that is a problem. How many years will it take to figure this stuff out? Trivedy, the UN resident coordinator, admitted that REDD+ was taking too long to bring to fruition in Papua New Guinea. “I think it’s fair to say there is growing impatience,” he said. Important things are happening: next year the country will begin its first ever national forest inventory. But it will be a decade or more, Trivedy predicted, before the country has a fully working REDD+ system. “The theory is right,” he insisted. “But we’ve got to try and get some quicker benefits to people so they can see, OK, that is the incentive, I’m going to choose to keep my trees.”
The Arrival of the Lights
O ne of the difficulties with REDD+ at the moment is convincing people to be patient, and to show faith. In the long run, the vision is that countries will achieve large, official nationwide emissions savings, and they will trade these, most likely on a massive government-to-government basis. In the meantime, however, entrepreneurs and communities who have set up REDD+ pilot projects in the last few years want to sell carbon credits now, on voluntary markets, and to wait for a global architecture to emerge.
In Papua New Guinea any talk of individual schemes raises uneasy memories of the carbon craze. But that has not stopped one man, and one project from going ahead anyway. Stephen Hooper, the Australian carbon developer who established the Sepik river REDD+ project, which Frank Nolwo joined, sold his first carbon credits in 2013. The project, known as April Salumei, has been certified to avoid 23m tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 38 years. At $5 a tonne, the UN’s current notional price for REDD+ transactions, that could work out at $115m.
So far, Hooper has sold around 200,000 tonnes to companies voluntarily offsetting their emissions and received about $300,000 in return. Under his “benefit sharing” agreement with the landowners, Hooper’s company receives 30% of that, while 60% goes to the community and 10% to the national government. The first thing the landowners wanted were boats. Hooper bought five. The next thing the district chairmen asked for was 20,000 Papua New Guinea kina each (about £4,500) to spend on health and education projects in their communities. That disappeared without trace. “We’re not perfect,” Hooper told me.
On a recent Tuesday evening, Hooper was back at the In Wewak Boutique hotel giving out mobile phones. The latest sales of the carbon credits from the Sepik have been to Qantas, Australia National Bank and Rema 1000, a supermarket chain in Norway. Hooper wanted people in the five districts involved in the project to take pictures of their daily lives, which he could then share with their customers. “Maybe someone finds a big snake?” Hooper prompted. The chairmen nodded and looked at their phones. Nolwo was not there. He was out in his district, preparing to welcome Hooper and the rest of the chairmen the following day, when one of his villages was due to receive a shipment of solar lights paid for by the project.
Hooper has been pretty much ever present alongside REDD+ in Papua New Guinea. At first he came for the money. By 2010, he had remortgaged his family house outside Perth, sold his car, boat, and the last stock options in Quest Minerals, the mining company he used to run. “It was probably around that time that I realised there was no pot of gold,” he said. Since then, Hooper has become a vaguely controversial figure in Papua New Guinea, simply for refusing to give up. When I was there, Hooper seemed to be everywhere, lobbying ministers, cajoling officials, trying to get a target of 2m hectares for REDD+ projects into the country’s paperwork for the Paris summit. That evening in Wewak, when we sat down for dinner, I asked one of the five chairmen of the April Salumei project, Philip Wablasu, to explain carbon trading to me and he smiled confidentially. “Steve knows,” he said.
The next morning, in the dark, we set off for Binomo, Nolwo’s district. We reached the river at noon and boarded two of the project’s new speedboats. The water in the Sepik was low, because of the drought, and the air – as everywhere – was blurred with the haze of distant fires. “Carbon dioxide,” said Nelson Garabi, one of the chairmen. The solar lights were being delivered to Igai, one of the villages in Binomo which, like all the rest, had no electricity. When we arrived, Nolwo was standing in front of a makeshift arch, fashioned from a palm leaf, next to a handwritten sign that said: “Welcome! Welcome! To the land of ‘untouchable virgin forest’ the land of fresh oxygen (O2) the purifier of green house gases” (sic). A sing-sing – a ceremonial celebration – was under way. The men and women of Igai wore feathers, and had bright turquoise and yellow dots painted on their faces.
Nolwo led the procession up to the centre of Igai, away from the river. According to Papua New Guinean custom, the men gathered in the main village hall, known as a haus, while women, children and teenagers stood or sat on the ground. After five years of hearing about carbon trading, this was the first time that many of them had seen anything arrive as a result. There were speeches. “The forest is your home,” exhorted Anton Pakawi, a former schoolteacher who handles the day-to-day administration of the project. “The forest is your sister. The forest is your brother.” Nolwo said a few words, but spent most of the time looking quietly amazed. “I just sit where I am and the money comes,” he said. “It is kind of like a miracle thing happening.”
Then it was time to turn on the lights. The first four went up in the village church, a skeletal structure that was more of a suggestion than a building. The idea was that children would be able to use the lights to do homework by night for the first time in Igai’s history. It was still early afternoon, though, and at first there was nothing to see. People drifted away. A man climbed a tree to bring down coconuts. But then darkness came, as it does in Papua New Guinea, with the speed and confidence of something quite permanent. And on the hill, out of the alchemy of the money and the trees, four lights shone, hard against the night.
Originally posted on https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/redd-papua-new-guinea-money-grow-on-trees
For further details about REDD+, please visit: http://www.un-redd.org/
HOW TO SAVE TROPICAL RAINFORESTS
By Rhett Butler | Last updated July 22, 2012
Originally published on Mongabay.com
Today tropical rainforests are disappearing from the face of the globe. Despite growing international concern, rainforests continue to be destroyed at a pace exceeding 80,000 acres (32,000 hectares) per day. Tropical cover now stands at 2 billion hectares (7.7 million sq miles), an area about the size of the United States plus China and representing around 13 percent of the world's land surface. Much of this remaining area has been impacted by human activities and no longer retains its full original biodiversity.
Deforestation of tropical rainforests has a global impact through species extinction, the loss of important ecosystem services and renewable resources, and the reduction of carbon sinks. However, this destruction can be slowed, stopped, and in some cases even reversed. Most people agree that the problem must be remedied, but the means are not as simple as fortifying fences around the remaining rainforests or banning the timber trade. Economic, political, and social pressures will not allow rainforests to persist if they are completely closed off from use and development.
So, what should be done? The solution must be based on what is feasible, not overly idealistic, and depends on developing a conservation approach built on the principle of sustainable use and development of rainforests. Beyond the responsible development of rainforests, efforts to rehabilitate and restore degraded forest lands along with the establishment of protected areas are key to securing rainforests for the long-term benefits they can provide mankind.
Historic approaches to rainforest conservation have failed, as demonstrated by the accelerated rate of deforestation. In many regions, closing off forests as untouchable parks and reserves has neither improved the quality of living or economic opportunities for rural poor nor deterred forest clearing by illegal loggers and developers. Corruption has only worsened the situation.
The problem with this traditional park approach to preserving wildlands in developing countries is that it fails to generate sufficient economic incentives for respecting and maintaining the forest. Rainforests will only continue to survive as functional ecosystems if they can be shown to provide tangible economic benefits. Local people and the government itself must see financial returns to justify the costs of maintaining parks and forgoing revenue from economic activities within the boundaries of the protected area.
Countries with significant rainforest cover are generally not the world's richest. As such, rural people's day-to-day survival is dependent upon natural-resource use. Most local people living in and around forests never have an option to become a doctor, sports star, factory worker, or secretary; they must live off the land that surrounds them, making use of whatever resources they can find. Their poverty costs themselves, their country, and the world through the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services like erosion prevention, flood control, water treatment, and fisheries protection.
Governments in these countries are in the unenviable position of having to balance the well-being of rural poor with the interests of industry, demands from foreign governments, and requirements from the international aid community. In this climate, it can be easier to simply neglect the continued destruction and degradation of environmental assets than to come up with a long-term plan to ensure that economic development is ecologically sustainable. Success in conserving wildlands in these countries will require reconciling the inevitable conflicts between short-term needs of local people and the long-term nature of the benefits that conservation can generate on a sustainable, ongoing basis.
Forces behind rainforest loss
Rainforests are being cut mostly for economic reasons, though there are political and social motivations as well. A significant portion of deforestation is caused by poor farmers simply trying to eke out a living on marginal lands. Beyond conversion for subsistence agriculture, activities like logging, clearing for cattle pasture and commercial agriculture are sizable contributors to deforestation on a global scale. Agricultural fires typically used for land-clearing often spread outside cultivated areas and into degraded rainforest regions.
Addressing deforestation requires taking the very different needs and interests of these groups into account.
Poor farmers are simply trying to put food on the table for their families. A better approach to addressing the needs of the rural poor may be improving and intensifying currently existing agricultural projects and promoting alternative cultivation techniques—notably permaculture. Permaculture adds a mix of crops to the farmer's palette that both enables the farm to diversify his or her income stream and enhance degraded soils by restoring nutrients. An added benefit of such techniques is that they maintain forest systems, soils, and biological diversity at a far higher level than do conventional agricultural approaches. As long as such fields are adjacent to secondary and old-growth forest, many species will continue to thrive.
One promising area of research looks at ancient societies that lived in the Amazon rainforest before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. Apparently these populations were able to enrich the rainforest soil, which is usually quite poor, using charcoal and animal bones. By improving soil quality, large areas of the Amazon that have been deforested could be used to support agriculture. This could help reduce pressure on rainforest areas for agricultural land. Further, the "terra preta" soil could be used to help fight global warming since it sequesters carbon that would otherwise contribute to global warming.
A second important part of aiding poor farmers is helping them gain formal title to their land. Right now, in places where it is difficult to gain ownership rights to land and where land is relatively open and abundant, there is little incentive to maintain or improve holdings. Once local people have a stake in the land they are farming, they will have an interest in using it efficiently instead of moving on to a new area of forest once soils are prematurely exhausted.
The creation of credit facilities for poor farmers to both save their earnings and borrow in times of need is also important to improving their quality of life. Micro-credit facilities can provide significant economic benefits to the local economy while bringing dignity to and promoting entrepreneurship among local people.
Finally, improved access to markets is important in enabling farmers to get their agricultural products. Improved access can be a doubled-edged sword if it means increased road-building, which often spurs further deforestation. Any infrastructure improvements should be carefully planned to minimize the future impact on remaining ecosystems.
Thus far it has proved difficult to apply the same permaculture agricultural techniques mentioned above to industrial operations. As currently practiced, large-scale agriculture is typically quite destructive of native ecosystems and does not maintain biodiversity at levels commensurate with adjacent forest areas. Incremental steps like the use of natural pest control and fertilizers can help reduce pollution caused by agricultural operations, while leaving strips of forest as corridors linking sections of forest helps moderate biodiversity losses.
Sustainable logging, while possible, has met resistance from the timber industry for its lack of efficiency relative to traditional harvesting methods, and it remains controversial among conservationists as to its impact on the environment. Illegal logging and counterfeit labeling are major obstacles facing sustainable forest management for timber, but in time the development of higher yielding timber plantations established on degraded non-forest lands will help alleviate pressures on natural forests.
Restoring and rehabilitating ecosystems
There is no use bemoaning past deforestation of large areas. Today the concern is how to best utilize lands already cleared so they support productive activities, now and for future generations. Without improving the well-being of people living in and around forests, we cannot expect rainforests to persist as fully functional systems and continue to cater to our needs.
In addressing environmental problems in rainforest countries, it is important that decision makers not only be concerned with the transformation of existing natural ecosystems, but also the more rational utilization of already cleared and degraded areas. To lessen future forest loss, we must increase and sustain the productivity of farms, pastures, plantations, and scrub land in addition to restoring species and ecosystems to degraded habitats. By reducing wasteful land-use practices, consolidating gains on existing cleared lands, and improving already developed lands, we can diminish the need to clear additional forest.
Research and experience has shown that the restoration of entire ecosystems is most possible in regions where parts or at least remnants of the original forest still remain and there are few human population pressures. Small clearings surrounded by forest recover quickly, and large sections may recover in time, especially if some assistance in the reforestation process is provided (with native seed dispersers like bats and birds doing some of the heavy lifting). After several years, a once-barren field can again support vegetation in the form of pioneer species and secondary growth. Although the secondary forest will be low in diversity and poorly developed, the forest cover will be adequate for some species to return (assuming they still exist). In addition, the newly forested patch can be used for the sustainable harvest of forest products and low-intensity logging and agriculture.
Funding rainforest conservation efforts
Conservation efforts and sustainable development programs are not going to be cost-free. Even countries that already get considerable aid from foreign donors have trouble effectively making such initiatives work in the long term. Since handouts, which in and of themselves can breed dependency, are inherently unsustainable, funding these initiatives may require more creative sources of income to be truly successful. Here are some other funding strategies for consideration:
Payments for ecosystem services—Hope for avoiding the worst outcomes in the tropics increasingly rests on the belief that people will soon pay for the services provided by healthy rainforests. These services—which include biodiversity maintenance, rainfall generation, carbon sequestration, and soil stabilization, among others—have traditionally been undervalued by markets, but there are signs that the situation is changing. In recent years the idea of compensating tropical countries for the carbon stored in their forests has gained traction. Known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), the approach is being pushed by entities ranching from the World Bank, to the U.N., to conservation groups, to states and municipalities. Even indigenous groups are experimenting with REDD+ projects. At a conceptual level, REDD+ operates as follows: tropical countries receive payments for reducing deforestation and forest degradation rates below a historic, mutually agreed-upon baseline. The payments go toward activities that reduce deforestation, whether its creating alternative livelihoods to slash-and-burn agriculture, subsidizing industrial agricultural expansion on degraded grasslands instead of forests, or providing health care to communities that normally depend on illegal logging to pay for medicine. While the idea sounds simple, in reality it is rather complex due to uncertainties on land rights, concerns that stopping deforestation in one place will only drive it elsewhere, worries about fairness and corruption, and controversies over the origin of the funds. Some believe that carbon offsets — whereby instead of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions emissions, a polluter (e.g. a power company) pays another entity (e.g. a collective of poor farmers) to reduce its emissions (e.g. halting deforestation for small-scale agriculture) — should fund REDD+. Others balk at this approach and instead REDD+ should be funded by traditionally aid models, under which taxpayers in countries like Australia, Germany, and the United States foot the bill for rainforest conservation in places like Papua New Guinea, Congo, and Ecuador. Some argue for something in between known as hybrid models. Of course carbon is just one of many services afforded by forests. Some analysts believe water generated by rainforests may have an even higher value than carbon. In fact, Brazil has started valuing parts of the Amazon based on the rainfall it generates for agricultural region and the contribution to hydroelectric dams.
Commodity roundtables—In a similar vein, pricing carbon emissions into agricultural production could generate funds for conservation while discouraging deforestation. The idea is that agricultural producers who abide by certain standards that reduce carbon emissions — like avoiding deforestation — would see higher prices for their products or receive preferential market access, like reduced tariffs. Meanwhile producers who continue to clear forests would be charged for the associated emissions. The approach is not without precedent — several countries, including Indonesia, have deforestation charges.
Ecotourism—Ecotourism can fund efforts both through park entrance fees and employing locals as guides and in the handicraft and service sectors (hotels, restaurants, drivers, boat drivers, porters, cooks). Many lodges in and around protected areas charge a daily fee to visitors which goes toward supporting the forest.
Bio-prospecting fees—Rainforest countries can earn revenue by allowing scientists to develop products from a country's native plant and animal species. The pioneer in this area was Costa Rica, which entered into an agreement with the American pharmaceutical company, Merck, to look for plants with potential pharmaceutical applications. Under the agreement, a portion of the proceeds from compounds that do prove commercially valuable will go to the Costa Rican government, which has guaranteed that some of the royalties will be set aside for conservation projects. Similarly, in 2001 Givaudan, a Swiss fragrance and flavor company, sent a team to look for new exotic smells and flavors in Madagascar. Following their survey, Givaudan researchers "reconstituted" 40 aromas that could be used in commercial products. The company has agreed to share a portion of the profits from these products with local communities through conservation and development initiatives. However such approaches have been challenged by questions over intellectual property and compensation for native communities. The market has also proved smaller than originally hoped.
Corporate sponsorship—Corporations have been a bit slow in "adopting" parks, but they have the money and a marketing-driven interest in taking a closer look at such schemes. One possible approach was proposed in 2004 Eugene Linden, Thomas Lovejoy, and J. Daniel Phillips in a commentary for Foreign Affairs. In the editorial, they call for dividing tropical rainforests into blocks and then soliciting funding commitments from international environmental groups, development institutions, corporations, and other credible donors. There would be a bidding process, after which an entity would take responsibility for maintaining forest cover and forest health in each block of the entire forest system. This plan could be a road for corporations to become involved in conservation as a public-relations/marketing tool. A given percentage of the proceeds could be put into a trust fund with the payout ear-marked for ongoing conservation and sustainable development programs.
Further steps once funding is in place
Expand protected areas—As many areas should be protected as soon as possible. If protected areas can be developed in such a manner to generate income for local communities, an increasing number of parks should theoretically create more economic benefits for a greater share of the population.
Increase surveillance of and patrols in protected areas—This can be done at a reduced cost if local communities benefit from the success of the park. If locals have a vested interest (i.e. are compensated via entrance fees, hired as guides, make handicrafts to sell to tourists, and recognize the value of ecosystem services), they will want to watch the park so that the source of their income is not diminished. Community surveillance is the most effective way to patrol a protected area, though it will probably be necessary to have park staff conduct patrols as well. Guides should be trained as well to keep watch for activities that are damaging to the ecosystem and report suspicious activities.
Build research facilities for training local scientists and guides—Boosting intellectual capital can introduce a new dynamic to an economy, especially one based on resource extraction. Unlocking the value of forests provides a great opportunity for a country to capitalize on its natural assets. For example, rainforests are home to many plants with potential medicinal value, yet it is usually American or European companies that develop drugs based on these natural compounds. Why can't it be local scientists unlocking the value of these natural treasures and local companies turning them into commercial products? Beyond medicine, there are opportunities to improve crop yields, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and mitigate soil erosion.
Establish programs that promote sustainable use—Programs that promote sustainable use are key to elevating the standard of living for people living around protected areas. Not all members of a community will see the direct benefits from employment in the service or production sector, and many people will still rely on traditional use of the natural resources around them. These resources must be used in a more effective manner to maximize productivity and minimize the impact on the environment.
Compensate displaced people—The establishment of protected areas has often displaced local people, making them enemies of conservation and depriving them of their basis human rights. Therefore it is critical that new protected areas involve a process of "free prior informed consent" (FPIC) with stakeholders that could be affected. In cases where local communities decide to move, it is important that they are fairly compensated for abandoning their existing livelihood and homes. While direct cash payouts is an option, a better strategy may be to provide these displaced people with long-term income possibilities through training in improved agricultural techniques or alternative crops.
Involve indigenous people, where they still exist, in park management. Indigenous people know more about the forest than anyone and have an interest in safeguarding it as a productive ecosystem that provides them food, shelter, and clean water. Research has found that in some cases, "indigenous reserves" may actually protect rainforest better than national parks in the Amazon. [More in our interview with Mark Plotkin and the Conservation Corridors Project.]
Promote ecotourism—Ecotourism is perhaps the best long-term approach for sustaining some tropical economies. Planners should seek to minimize the environmental impact and maximize the benefits for local communities.
Ensure economic success does not result in increased deforestation—As rural populations begin to reap benefits from conservation-related activities, it is important that they not reinvest this income in activities that result in further deforestation. Traditionally, in many villages, the more money someone made, the more money was put back into land clearing. Rural banks and savings institutions are virtually unknown in many parts of the developing world. Such facilities, which would enable both saving and lending, could rapidly change the lives of millions through increased entrepreneurship and the ability to put away money for the future.
Encourage entrepreneurship—Encouraging entrepreneurship through such a micro-credit strategy could pay significant dividends for a country's economy as a whole. Studies in developing countries have found that entrepreneurial skills among the poor are actually quite high when people are given access to capital . Stimulating entrepreneurship through small, low-cost loans is possibly a better approach than handouts, which may do little more than breed dependency and reduce human dignity.
Looking toward the future, tough choices
Simply banning the timber trade or establishing reserves will not be enough to salvage the world's remaining tropical rainforests. In order for the forest to be preserved, the underlying social, economic, and political reasons for deforestation must be recognized and addressed. Once the issues are brought into the light, the decision can be made about what should be done. If it is decided that rainforests must be saved, then the creation of multi-use reserves that promote sustainable development and education of local people would be a good place to start. Currently about 6 percent of the world's remaining forests are protected, meaning that over 90 percent are still open for the taking. However, even this 6 percent is not safe if the proper steps towards sustainable development are not taken. If possible, reforestation and restoration projects should be encouraged if we, humanity, hope to come out of this situation without serious, long-term consequences.
5 reasons why many conservation efforts fail
Conservation groups often struggle to find that perfect recipe for success. Mongabay examines the reasons that make conservation successes hard to come by.
One aim of conservation projects is to protect wild habitats and prevent species extinction. But managing natural resources is complex. Despite striving for years, conservation groups — both big and small — often struggle to find that perfect recipe for success.
Some conservation efforts have seen triumph. For example, the recovery of the southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum ssp. simum) is considered to be one of the biggest conservation success stories in recent times.
In the 1800s, the southern white rhino was considered extinct. But thanks to intensive efforts that involved creation of protected areas and captive breeding of the rhinos, this sub-species went from a tiny, single population of less than 50 individuals in 1895 to more than 20,000 individuals. Now, the southern white rhino is the most abundant of all the rhinos.
Often though, such wins are short-lived. In the case of the southern white rhino, for example, a recent uptick in rampant poaching carried out by organized criminal networks is seriously threatening the rhino’s survival and undermining conservationists’ efforts.
As human population continues to grow, and resources become limited, conservation successes may become harder to come by, scientists say.
“To be blunt, we are feeding and breeding like hungry migratory locusts,” William Laurance, a Distinguished Research Professor at James Cook University, told Mongabay. “When my grandfather was a boy, we had a billion people on Earth; today we have well over seven billion, and we could well be heading toward ten billion or more. To this point in time, we’ve survived by continually exploiting new frontiers—for minerals, timber, oil, and other goods—but we’re running out of new frontiers to exploit.”
And this can spell trouble for wildlife and wild lands. In fact, despite efforts to curb species extinction, “the average risk of extinction for birds, mammals, amphibians and corals show no sign of decreasing”, according to the United Nation’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 report.
Numerous reasons — often complex and interrelated — can result in conservation failure. Mongabay examines five of these reasons, in no particular order.
Lack of local buy-in
Every year, new protected areas are chalked out across the world. Often, these are created in developing countries, which are both rich in biodiversity and have some of the poorest populations in the world.
Traditionally though, protected areas have been designed to exclude local communities. In some cases, such as in parks that have sufficient manpower and resources to physically patrol and guard the parks effectively, or when local communities have voluntarily moved out of the parks after being adequately consulted and compensated, this “preservation” conservation strategy has worked.
But as people and wildlife scramble for space, excluding local people from conservation efforts in increasingly becoming a recipe for failure in the long run.
According to a 2013 review study, displacing local communities from their traditional lands, restricting their access to resources within the parks, and providing little or no compensation, can make them hostile towards the conservation groups and their efforts. Often, this leads to conflict, compelling the communities to go against the established rules, and harvest resources and hunt illegally.
“If the local people do not see a benefit of local conservation, then whatever the laws are, they are going to be ineffective,” Stuart Pimm, a Professor of conservation ecology at the Duke University, told Mongabay.
Failing to consider the people who live in and around protected areas can have disastrous consequences. It can delay projects, cause conservationists and governments to miss their conservation targets, and cost billions of dollars because of the ensuing conflict.
However, like all conservation strategies, community-based conservation must be carefully designed, scientists say.
“Truth be said, a lot of local management does not work very well,” Laurance said. “That’s not to imply that top-down management of parks and other lands is perfect either. I actually think that almost everything is context-dependent.”
One problem, according to some experts, is that conservationists tend to apply conservation strategies far too generally. They fail to understand the past and current ecology of the place, its wildlife, politics and people. And this can lead to failure.
Studies have shown, for instance, that conservation groups often fail to look into past patterns of human population densities in and around proposed protected areas. They also fail to delve into the history of land tenure, conflict and resource use in the forests or habitats they want to protect.
Conservation groups also tend to plan their projects based on a number of misleading assumptions, experts say. One such assumption, for instance, is that conservationists tend to look at local communities as socially homogenous groups of people. Project planners often fail to appreciate the complexities of gender, households, different institutes and individuals within communities, which can result in conflict and failure.
Planners also tend to assume that local people are destructive to biodiversity conservation. While this may be true in some cases, this blanket assumption means that conservation groups sometimes ignore the true dynamics of the local communities’ agricultural and hunting practices, and how these are adapted to the local socio-ecological conditions.
“Unless you understand the local politics, you’re not going to be successful,” Pimm said. “Now, I’m never going to understand that completely. I don’t live in those places. But I can do my best, and I can recognize that I have to work with the people and the local politics.”
Lack of funding
Biodiversity protection requires money. But conservation groups often struggle to find reliable sources of funding that can ensure long-term success of their conservation initiatives.
“A big problem is that we tend to have funding models based on three- to five-year cycles,” Laurance said. “We start a project and then expect quick and, ideally, long-term results. But things fall apart once the funding stops. You can’t throw dollars in the short term at complex problems and expect long-term success.”
When funding does become available, it is often unevenly distributed or biased towards certain groups of animals. A study published in 2010, for example, found that “charismatic” species of mammals were more likely to find scientific funding than other “less attractive” reptiles, birds or amphibians. Similarly, a study published this month found that only 12 percent of endangered species on the U.S. endangered species lists are receiving as much funding as prescribed in their recovery plan.
Sometimes though, availability of funds does not guarantee that biodiversity conservation efforts will be fruitful. According to Pimm, this is a problem with many large conservation groups. Large groups are more interested in raising large sums of money, he said, rather than spending them well.
“This is the reason why I founded SavingSpecies with some very distinguished conservation scientists,” he added. “We felt that small conservation groups are first of all small, and that makes them vulnerable. Big conservation groups are sucking the funding out. So we wanted to do our best to empower and encourage all local groups simply because we believe that they are more effective at what they do than the bigger groups.”
Lack of clearly stated goals
All projects need goals. Conservation initiatives, too, start with goals and objectives that the groups want to achieve within a given period of time. These goals help chart out specific management actions as well as strategies to distribute money and resources that can make the conservation project a success.
Unfortunately, many conservation projects set out with very fuzzy, poorly designed goals, Pimm said. “These are usually set by people who are funding the projects rather than by the absolute priority of the conservation action that they are seeking,” he added. “I think that sometimes the goals are not even very closely connected with conservation.”
Conservation efforts benefit from straightforward goals and measurable objectives — both short-term and long-term — that are guided by the “best available” science. Such objectives can help evaluate the success of a conservation program.
Setting unrealistic or inconsistent goals, however, can seriously undermine conservation efforts. When local communities are involved, for example, changing objectives can lead to confusion among the community members regarding how the natural resources will be managed. This can in turn lead to frustration and failure of conservation efforts.
Conservation is complex, though. So defining clear objectives and quantitatively measuring the success of conservation efforts is not always possible or feasible.
“Let’s say, for instance, that I teach a course in conservation practice, and one of my students happens to be the daughter of the director of national parks of a nation, and that she in turn inspires her father to establish series of new parks,” Laurance said. “That’s a very important outcome, but it’s diffuse and indirect. How does one measure that sort of thing? Conservation success can happen in lots of ways that are not always easy to assess.”
Lack of law and order
Poaching of rhinos and elephants is at an all time high. Yet, loopholes in existing laws, poor governance and lack of law enforcement are making it easy for poachers and traffickers to get away with their crimes.
Studies have shown that parks are more effective in protecting biodiversity when they have a higher density of guards patrolling them. Harsher punishments can also be deterrents to wildlife crimes. Often though, forest guards are insufficiently trained and equipped, and lack the means to patrol parks or fight against armed poachers.
Moreover, wildlife crimes such as poaching and illegal timber logging are increasingly becoming organized and are no longer limited to violations of national and international laws relating to the environment, according to a recent INTERPOL report. Wildlife crimes often intersect other offences such as murder, corruption, and the trafficking of drugs and weapons, making law enforcement by environment authorities particularly challenging, the report notes.
Tackling such complex crimes requires increased collaboration between various environmental and policing agencies, anti-money laundering networks and anti-corruption authorities.
“We need to push for cultural changes in which corruption and poor enforcement become less acceptable socially,” Laurance said. “I’m not quite sure how to do this but a heck of a lot of bad environmental decisions are made because somebody is getting rich as a result.”
Published on Mongabay.
Podcast about hunting worldwide created by the World Land Trust: Controversial Conservation - Part I.