Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Climate change: avoiding deforestation

Last month, the government of the South American nation of Guyana made a dramatic offer: they would place their entire rainforest under international control as a carbon reservoir, in exchange for development assistance. Now the UK government looks set to take them up on the deal.

This is excellent news. Tropical deforestation is responsible for 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and Guyana's rainforest contains as much carbon as the UK emits in 40 years. Stopping that carbon from being emitted is vital to preventing or limiting climate change. At the same time, it's not enough. Guyana is just one country, and while its trees will now be preserved, the chainsaws are still working in Brazil, Indonesia, and Congo. If we want to limit this cause of climate change, then we'll need to find some way of stopping them there too.

Fortunately, it looks like there is good news on that front as well: negotiators at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali have agreed to include deforestation in the successor to Kyoto. Details are sketchy at present, but it looks like the rich world will pay the poor to keep that carbon (and biodiversity) standing. The question now is whether we will live up to those promises, or welch on them as we did on clean development. So maybe poor nations should be demanding cash up front, rather than continuing to trust in the promises of the wealthy.