One of the facts of conservation is that the more prosperous a society is, the more likely it is to protect its natural environment. Conversely, less developed nations are prone to exploit and destroy theirs in their drive to more prosperity. The problem, of course, is that much, if not most, of the world’s most biodiverse forests are in developing nations which can often ill afford to protect them against deforestation by loggers, farmers and land developers.
What to do? One solution, proposed by a professor of environmental economics at the University of Oslo in Norway, is this: Let rich nations pay poorer ones for protecting their forests. By doing so, rich nations can ensure that poorer countries will develop sustainably, which is in the interest of everyone, rich or poor, around the planet because that will help reduce our collective carbon footprints.
The scheme introduces the concept of “conservation goods,” whereby rich nations effectively function as “buyers” who purchase forests from poorer nation “sellers.” However, unlike in traditional buyer-seller arrangements, these buyers will not consume “the goods” (i.e. forests) but buy them so as to stop the sellers from consuming them themselves.
It would be a win-win for rich and poor nations alike because we would all benefit far more from preserving those forests than from clearing them. Deforestation in countries like Malaysia with their large swathes of tropical forests leads both to the loss of biodiversity with unique ecosystems and to climate change through diminishing natural “carbon sinks” (trees, that is).
The idea relies on the environmentalist concept of “global commons,” whereby rich and irreplaceable natural resources are treated as the collective property, as well as the collective responsibility, of people around the planet, not just of their host nations.
Yet ironically rich nations currently often fail to help poor nations financially in the latter’s conservation efforts until their unique natural resources, like rainforests, come to be at visible risk. “We’ve reached stalemate,” the researcher, Bard Harstad, said. “This fundamental contradiction means the market for conservation is not efficient and that a forest must be logged gradually to secure the funding needed to protect it.”
More than 30% of the planet is currently forested, but around 120,000-150,000 square kilometers of forests is lost each year to logging, fires and other forms of degradation. That is the equivalent of 48 football fields every minute. According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), almost a fourth of the planet’s human inhabitants, or around 1.6 billion people, rely on forests for their livelihoods.
To save those forests, rich nations in the so-called global North should commit to paying poorer nations in the global South regularly in order to keep those forests intact. International mechanisms with binding treaties should be put in place to ensure that payments are duly made and forests are duly protected from clearing. “For conservation to work, it is not important that the payment happens today, but the commitment to future compensation must be established already now,” Harstad stressed.