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It was our dream come true: our CGD initiative – Tropical Forests for Climate and Development  – getting mentioned on the front page of the New York Times, albeit the angle wasn’t quite what we had in mind.  We prefer to focus on the substance.  After all, CGD has been working on Financing Forest Conservation to Combat Global Warming since before the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, and we’re excited about our research that’s currently underway.

The substantive question is: should governments spend more money on combating global warming by slowing the clearing of forests in countries like Indonesia? Our answer is an emphatic “yes”–not just because tropical deforestation is a major source of climate emissions, but also because efforts to stop forest loss are aligned with CGD’s mission of promoting global development, with a focus on what rich countries can do.

Did you know that:

  • If tropical deforestation were a country, its emissions would be greater than those of the United States, and on par with those of China?
  • Conversion of forests to produce globally-traded commodities such as soybeans and palm oil is the major cause of deforestation, and that rich-country biofuel subsidies make it worse?
  • Brazil has dramatically reduced its rate of deforestation and associated emissions, and has done so while increasing agricultural production?
  • Indonesia, now with the world’s highest rate of tropical deforestation, has committed to cut emissions (which are mostly due to deforestation) up to 41% with international support, and has recently established a new Ministerial-level agency to tackle the problem?
  • Actions necessary to reduce deforestation – such as increasing the transparency of forest concessions and clarifying land ownership – are the same ones needed to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law?
  • On average, households that live in and around tropical forests get 21% of their income from wild forest products?
  • Research conducted after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 showed that coastal communities protected by mangrove forests suffered lower losses of life and property?

The recent IPCC report on impacts made clear that climate change is regressive, disproportionately affecting poor and vulnerable communities. And evidence is accumulating that maintaining tropical forests is progressive, because poor people are the ones most dependent on the goods and services that those forests provide. So helping countries conserve their forests is doubly consistent with global development objectives.

We’re in the process of synthesizing these and other findings that link forests, climate change, and development, based on some 20 independent analyses that we have commissioned or are producing ourselves. We’ll continue to release these papers as they become available.

The analyses will also feed into a book that we are co-authoring entitled, “Why forests? Why now? The science, economics, and politics of tropical forests and climate change.” The book will show that tropical forests are essential for both climate stability and sustainable development, that now is the time for action on tropical forests, and that payment-for-performance finance (a CGD specialty) for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) represents a course of action with great potential for success.

We will make the case that substantial additional finance from high-income countries needs to be mobilized to reward countries for reducing deforestation, and that doing so is urgent, affordable, and feasible. Getting rich countries to scale up support to countries such as Indonesia to help them reduce their rates of forest loss would truly be a dream come true.

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.