Developing Countries to Sign Treaty on Deforestation

rainforest-conservation-summitMore than thirty developing countries are coming together to find ways of cooperating on protection of the world’s tropical rainforests.  In what may be the largest and best-coordinated international forest conservation attempt ever, the different nations will meet at a summit in the Republic of the Congo later this spring in hopes of coming to agreement on a treaty.

This is just the latest example of developing countries taking initiative on global environmental issues, and has important implications for the fight against climate change.  Though less important than the burning of fossil fuels for energy, deforestation is believed to be responsible for 15-20% of global carbon emissions.  Part of the impetus for developing countries coordinating forest protection efforts is their desire to be able to bring an organized forest strategy to international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa this December.  Countries working on a new forest treaty say they will also be writing a “declaration on tropical forests, climate change, and sustainable development” to present to the world in Durban.

The tropical forests summit where countries hope to sign a treaty will take place in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, from May 31st to June 3rd of this year.  Most of the participating countries come from one of the planet’s three great strongholds of tropical forests: the Amazon Basin of South America, Africa’s Congo Basin region, and the peninsular and island countries of Southeast Asia.  According to Henri Djombo, Republic of the Congo’s minister of sustainable development, these three regions are home to 80% of the world’s tropical forests and two-thirds of the planet’s biodiversity.

Some tropical countries have already shown dramatically curbing deforestation is not only an achievable goal, but can be an effective way to cut carbon emissions.  The best example so far probably comes from Brazil, which also has a larger area of tropical forest cover than any other nation.  Once considered the poster child for unsustainable deforestation, Brazil has brought down deforestation rates significantly over the last six years, providing a model other countries could follow.  In February of this year Brazil announced it had reduced deforestation to 67% below the average annual rate from the decade between 1996 and 2005.   

Brazil’s success seems to be due to a combination of factors, which include stricter enforcement of environmental laws, turning over more tracts of land to the control of indigenous peoples, and a growing national environmental movement.  Also important was monetary support supplied by Norway as part of an international climate mitigation effort.  In 2009 Norway made the first stage of payments in a program that will eventually deal out $1 billion to Brazil to help with forest conservation work.

Yet the job of protecting Brazil’s rainforest is not done, and many other countries continue to suffer from sky-high deforestation rates.  In Indonesia for example, the razing of forests is being fueled by rapid expansion of palm oil and timber plantations.  Government corruption and inefficiencies left over from the Suharto dictatorship, which controlled Indonesia from 1967 until 1998, has made enforcement of existing forest protection laws difficult.  Meanwhile other countries like Madagascar also continue to suffer from high deforestation rates. 

By encouraging communication and cooperation between tropical countries that seek to conserve their forests, the Brazzaville summit later this year could help nations like Indonesia and Madagascar learn from the successes of others like Brazil.  It is also very likely any declaration on deforestation and climate change issued by developing countries will call on richer industrialized nations to help provide funding needed to bring deforestation under control.  If tropical countries across the globe can dramatically curb loss of forests, it could set a promising precedent for international efforts to avert climate change.

Photo credit: Nick Engelfried

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