July 25, 2008
$1 Billion Per Year Could Stop Tenth Of Deforestation

$1 billion per year could prevent one tenth of tropical deforestation.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Wealthy nations willing to collectively spend about $1 billion annually could prevent the emission of roughly half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for the next 25 years, new research suggests.

It would take about that much money to put an end to a tenth of the tropical deforestation in the world, one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, researchers estimate.

Reduced carbon emissions aside, the reduction in habitat destruction would be great. Why not advocate this measure just to cut down on habitat loss? Whatever happened to the environmental movement that used to place so much emphasis on ecosystem preservation? Nowadays carbon dioxide emissions get all the attention. This does not seem sensible to me. If CO2 had no effects on temperatures the destruction of rain forests would still be wiping out species.

Though I wonder if this program would really have its desired effect. Or would the preservation of some rain forests just increase the rush to destroy the unprotected rain forests? My guess is these researchers aren't aiming high enough.

This sounds roughly analogous to existing practice of paying farmers not to till land that is considered valuable habitat.

If adopted, this type of program could have potential to reduce global carbon emissions by between 2 and 10 percent.

The calculation is one of several estimates described by a team of scientists and economists this week in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The calculations, based on three different forestry and land-use models, provide the best estimates so far of how much it would cost developed nations to participate in a program called “avoided deforestation” to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.

One fifth of CO2 emissions come from tropical deforestation.

Under such a program, wealthy nations would help achieve reduced emissions globally by paying landowners in developing nations not to cut down wide swaths of forested land to make way for agricultural uses. Tropical deforestation, the cutting and burning of trees to convert land to grow crops and raise livestock, accounts for about a fifth of all human-caused carbon emissions in the world.

When forests get destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations for biomass energy the result is loss of species diversity.

Rising demand for palm oil will decimate biodiversity unless producers and politicians can work together to preserve as much remaining natural forest as possible, ecologists have warned. A new study of the potential ecological impact of various management strategies published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology found that very little can be done to make palm oil plantations more hospitable for local birds and butterflies. The findings have major implications for the booming market in biofuels and its impact on biodiversity.

Dr Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zürich looked at the number of birds and butterflies in 15 palm oil plantations in East Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. He found that palm oil plantations supported between one and 13 butterfly species, and between seven and 14 species of bird. Previous research by other ecologists found at least 85 butterfly and 103 bird species in neighbouring undisturbed rain forest.

Management techniques – such as encouraging epiphytes, beneficial plants or weed cover in palm oil plantations – increased species richness by only 0.4 species for butterflies and 2.2 species for birds. Preserving remaining natural forests – for example by creating forest buffer zones between plantations – made a little more impact, increasing species richness by 3.7 in the case of butterflies and 2.5 for birds.

Previously untouched regions are going to get ripped apart in the quest for "clean" biodiesel from palm oil.

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The global resource boom is threatening one of the world's last tropical-forest frontiers: the Merauke region of Indonesia's remote Papua province.

Indonesian companies are lining up to develop pulp-and-paper mills in Merauke; investors from South Korea want to expand palm-oil plantations; and Indonesian officials have tried to persuade International Paper Co to invest in the region.

The demand for wood and palm oil might drive orangutans into extinction. The demand for supposedly carbon-neutral energy sources (except that wiping out forests releases large amounts of CO2) is contributing to the extinction of orangutans.

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Orangutan numbers have declined sharply on the only two islands where they still live in the wild and they could become the first great ape species to go extinct if urgent action isn't taken, a new study says.

The declines in Indonesia and Malaysia since 2004 are mostly because of illegal logging and the expansion of palm oil plantations, Serge Wich, a scientist at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa, said on Saturday.

This problem is going to get worse as more people in China, India, and southeast Asia start working in industrial jobs and their growing buying power lets them buy furniture, housing, and energy. The higher oil prices will boost European demand for biomass energy. Down will go the forests.

Update: In addition to rain forests, wetlands are getting destroyed too.

Covering just 6% of Earth's land surface, wetlands (including marshes, peat bogs, swamps, river deltas, mangroves, tundra, lagoons and river floodplains) store 10-20% of its terrestrial carbon. Wetlands slow the decay of organic material trapped and locked away over the ages in low oxygen conditions.

These waterlogged (either seasonally or year-round) areas contain an estimated 771 gigatonnes (771 billion tonnes) of greenhouse gases – both CO2 and more potent methane – an amount in CO2 equivalent comparable to the carbon content of today's atmosphere.


Some 60% of wetlands worldwide – and up to 90% in Europe – have been destroyed in the past 100 years, principally due to drainage for agriculture but also through pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction.

Notwithstanding recent efforts in such countries as Australia and the U.S. (which has lost 50 million of an estimated 90 million hectares of wetlands 500 years ago) to protect wetlands and reverse past damage, at a world scale they continue to shrink.

"Wetlands act as sponges and their role as sources, reservoirs and regulators of water is largely underappreciated by many farmers and others who rely on steady water supplies," says Prof. Junk. "They also cleanse water of organic pollutants, prevent downstream flood inundations, protect riverbanks and seashores from erosion, recycle nutrients and capture sediment."

Population growth, industrialization, and depletion of available fossil fuels all create pressures that result in more destruction of rain forests and wetlands. So the problem is going to get worse.

Click thru on that link and read lots of facts about the value of wetlands.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 July 25 01:28 PM  Trends Habitat Loss

Brock said at July 25, 2008 1:40 PM:

Market failure. The owners of old growth forests and watersheds should be able to collect rent on fresh air and water. You think the world is addicted to Oil? Try water and oxygen. Everyone needs those. A market that no longer provides these essential commodities gratis will show great investments in trees and butterflies. Who will be the Rockefeller of Green?

Likewise, a working CO2 credit market (if such a thing is possible) would allow Brazil to (literally) print money without inducing inflation. But I think the provision of water and air would be sufficient to encourage great investments in rain forest preservation. Also, the Congo would finally have something worth selling besides blood diamonds and slaves.

Bob Badour said at July 25, 2008 3:56 PM:
Orangutan numbers have declined sharply on the only two islands where they still live in the wild and they could become the first great ape species to go extinct

Sometimes, I have to shake my head when I read the stupid things journalists write. What?!? Australopithecus didn't go extinct after all?!? ::rolls eyes::

Not that I want to lose the people of the forest: I think a world without the orang utan would be a lesser place.

Kralizec said at July 25, 2008 6:17 PM:

I doubt that $1 billion would really be decisive in such a matter, given that world product is something like $50 trillion annually. If various men have reasons to want the trees to come down, they'll begin countering that tiny sum with bids of their own. A billion-dollar figure worked up by a technician may be useful for demonstration. However, in practical matters, it seems characteristic of technicians, when they try to extend the rule of their "logic" over the world, to overestimate their ability to mow down the dense forest of politics.

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