Save the Climate by Saving the Forests
By Fred Pearce
The New Scientist
22 March 2008 Issue
Kevin Conrad was brought up in Papua New Guinea, the son of American missionaries. He spent his childhood "shooting birds, cutting down trees and burning things". His name might not be familiar, but at the Bali climate conference last December he drew applause and worldwide TV coverage for taking on the US. If it wasn't willing to lead the world in combating climate change, said Conrad, head of the Papua New Guinea delegation, the US should "get out of the way".
There is more to Conrad than those 15 seconds of fame. He is an academic and an investment banker. He is also the founder and director of an organisation called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, which has almost single-handedly persuaded the world that one of the best ways to tackle climate change is to offer developing countries huge cash incentives to stop destroying their rainforests.
Conrad runs the coalition out of a small office at Columbia University in New York. But it began, he says, in 2005 on a beach in Papua New Guinea. "I went for a walk by the ocean with the prime minister, Michael Somare, who comes from the same home town as me. He talked about how he wanted to save our rainforests, but how we depended on them for our income. We agreed there had to be a way of paying to save the forests. So we set up a group of nations with the same ideas - Deforesters Anonymous, we called them at the start - and got those ideas on the agenda of the climate negotiations."
Two years on in Bali, delegates from more than 100 countries agreed to establish a system of compensation for reducing deforestation. The aim is to have a deal ready for signing at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. If it works, it will cut a source of greenhouse gas emissions that is second only to the burning of fossil fuels.
"Bali achieved more than we ever expected," says Conrad. There is widespread support for the plan, dubbed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). It extends from green non-governmental organisations and forest scientists to aid experts and a new breed of carbon capitalists keen to make money out of cutting carbon emissions.
We pay 'terrorists' to not shoot our military, why not pay people to not destroy forests?