Monday, 20 December 2010


The difficulty of the so called ‘developed countries’ assisting the developing countries to save their rainforests was amply demonstrated at the recent climate change conference at Cancun. Environmentalists would no doubt applaud the decision to put some money behind a mechanism that would offer financial support to countries that committed themselves to conserving their rainforests.  This would both benefit the atmosphere of the planet by ensuring that the carbon remained safely within the forests and provide funds to help the developing countries to develop in a more sustainable manner. Anyone who heard or read about Mr Bharret Jagdeo, the President of Guyana’s speech to the conference could be in little doubt though, that Guyana, the first intended beneficiary of the scheme, was not at all happy with its current implementation.  There were clearly problems over deciding how much carbon is actually being stored in Guyana’s forests and this had led to delays in funding and an unfortunate atmosphere of mistrust. The speech seemed particularly targeted to Mr Stolteberg, the Prime minister of Norway, whose government had seemed so supportive of REDD, (the UN initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest degradation) and who had agreed to provide much of the funding to save Guyana’s rainforests. Hopefully this will prove to be merely a teething problem in a new system that has the potential to help many of the world’s poorest countries retain their wonderful biodiversity, assist in the process of preventing carbon emissions and develop in a way that improves their people’s livelihoods, while at the same time protecting their environment.

The initial difficulties in this process point perhaps to a wider problem
in the huge challenge of saving the tropical rainforests, which are both huge reservoirs of carbon and also the most biodiverse and potentially valuable eco-systems known to man.  Yet if we were to look at our recent history of rainforest conservation, only the most naive optimist with the most rosy tinted glasses, would have much faith in our ability to prevent the rapid destruction of much of the remaining rainforests.  Although there are committed environmentalists and organizations, both in tropical rainforest countries and the wider world, working tirelessly to protect certain areas of rainforest and winning occasional battles, it is the logging companies, the palm oil plantations, the mining companies and even the poor slash and burn farmers that ensure that more and more of the rainforests are destroyed each year. My belief is it is only when the governments and people in rainforest countries realize that it is in their short-term and long-term interest to protect the rainforests, that we have much chance of turning the tide of destruction. 

If they can see their rainforests as national assets to take pride in, if they can fully realize their eco-tourism and natural resource potential, and perhaps most importantly if these countries can develop sustainable agriculture and forestry programmes, then perhaps we can begin to turn the tide.  The recent summit at Cochabamba that Bolivia hosted gives some reason for hope. Their deep concern about global warming, their understandable anger at the relative inaction of the major carbon emitters and their desire to find a more sustainable form of development, in many ways put to shame the limited progress made at Cancun. It is vital that any funds that developed countries make available should not only pay individual countries for storing carbon in their forests but also be targeted to projects and organizations that can improve the livelihoods of people living in and on the margins of the rainforests. When the forests can be properly protected by their governments and when the local people are given a financial stake in their conservation, then there is a chance that overall forest cover in these countries can even begin to increase. After all an investment in a sustainable mahogany plantation is probably one of the best long-term investments you can make.

So, to return to the original question – how can we help save the rainforests? I suspect that there are very many different ways that we as individuals can help lend a hand in this daunting environmental challenge.  This monthly blog is partly intended to investigate those different ways, and to hopefully find out from people working in tropical forest conservation how they think enthusiastic amateurs such as myself might be able to help.  One of the ways, though, must be to join a rainforest conservation charity and I make no excuse for plugging the one that I have chosen to be involved with at the end of this first blog. The Rainforest Saver Foundation, , charity no. SCO 39007 is supporting projects that will enable slash and burn farmers to stop repeatedly burning more and more areas of rainforest and instead use a new technique, which both protects the environment and provides them with a better, more secure livelihood. Please check out their web site and in the next blog, I’ll put forward the case for why its projects need and merit a substantial amount of funding. Who knows, I might even include some pictures next time.

Sources and Further Reading

The Rainforest Saver Foundation - 

To find out more about the forest deal at Cancun, I recommend .

To try and get to grips with REDD, check out .