Developing nations may save the tropical forest

In an article this Friday (April 14) in the international magazine New Scientist, a leading rainforest biologist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama argues that a new initiative by developing nations offers great promise to help reduce the rampant rate of tropical forest destruction.

William Laurance, a Smithsonian scientist who is also president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, says the proposal "basically involves selling or renting rainforests to help protect the billions of tons of carbon they store, thereby slowing the rapid buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

The accelerating rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is considered a key cause of global warming. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the destruction of tropical forests--currently disappearing at a rate of fifty football fields a minute--accounts for up to a quarter of all human greenhouse-gas emissions.

The new initiative, which is being forwarded by an alliance of developing countries led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica (www.rainforestcoalition.org), would set up a mechanism whereby wealthy industrial nations pay developing countries to slow deforestation. In so doing, the industrial nations would earn 'carbon credits' that would count toward their agreed emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol or other international agreements.

"It's potentially a win-win situation for everybody involved," said Laurance. "The forests win, the atmosphere wins, the international community wins, and developing nations struggling to overcome poverty win."

"Of course, the devil is in the details," Laurance admits. Earlier efforts to establish rainforest-carbon trading under Kyoto were defeated, in part because countries couldn't agree about whether and how to credit countries that slowed forest destruction.

Contact: William F. Laurance
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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