Remembering the Amazon

Aerial view of the Amazon forest.  © CI/Photo by Haroldo Castro
Maybe I’m getting to that ‘past my prime’ point in life where the 1990s does not seem like that long ago, but Brendan Borrell’s recent Washington Post article, “Amazon? Still Not Out of the Woods” really resonated with me. Frankly, I didn’t understand the importance of tropical forests’ contribution to climate change until I began my work here at CI nearly a year ago.

Before joining CI, I thought about the Amazon as Borrell suggests many did: a 1980s ‘Protect the Rainforest’ trend that drew the attention of celebrities like Sting and Phil Collins who staged protests and “helped put an end to Burger King’s $35 million ‘rain forest beef’ contract in Central America.” What I didn’t realize back then, and am grateful to be learning more about now, is how absolutely essential protecting the forests is in order to make progress on mitigating climate change, securing fresh water resources and eradicating global poverty.

What most people don’t know is that according to the World Bank, of the 1.5 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide (surviving on less than $2 a day), nearly 90 percent depend on forest ecosystems and the services they provide, such as freshwater and crop pollination, for their livelihoods. Forests provide millions of dollars in benefits to the rural poor that would otherwise be required from local governments or international assistance organizations. Forests, in particular, provide jobs for subsistence farmers, small-scale loggers, gold miners, harvesters and extractors of natural medicines. Long-term economic benefits of reducing deforestation amount to $3.7 trillion.

As Borrell mentions in his article, the United Nations is currently discussing incentives for REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), which if fully funded could contribute to central government climate change coordination and planning, carbon monitoring, protected area management, financing community-level protection activities and improved livelihoods among indigenous communities.

CI has been actively promoting an outcome for Copenhagen that includes strong language on incentives for REDD. CI’s position is that any global initiative to combat climate change must recognize the fundamental role of ecosystems – particularly forests – in regulating the climate.

I strongly embrace the ongoing notion that protecting forests is more than just a trendy green attention-grabbing mechanism. Without healthy forests, we are ignoring not only the most ready, affordable and urgent solutions, but the very basis of life on Earth.

Joanne Sonenshine is the Climate Change Director for the Global Strategies Division at Conservation International

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