Jan 072011
 
Map locator of Brazil's Mato Grosso state
Image via Wikipedia

QUERENCIA, Brazil — José Marcolini, a farmer here, has a permit from the Brazilian government to raze 12,500 acres of rain forest this year to create highly profitable new soy fields.

But he says he is struggling with his conscience. A Brazilian environmental group is offering him a yearly cash payment to leave his forest standing to help combat climate change.

Mr. Marcolini says he cares about the environment. But he also has a family to feed, and he is dubious that the group’s initial offer in the negotiation — $12 per acre, per year — is enough for him to accept.

“For me to resist the pressure, surrounded by soybeans, I’ll have to be paid — a lot,” said Mr. Marcolini, 53, noting that cleared farmland here in the state of Mato Grosso sells for up to $1,300 an acre.

Mato Grosso means thick forests, and the name was once apt. But today, this Brazilian state is a global epicenter of deforestation. Driven by profits derived from fertile soil, the region’s dense forests have been aggressively cleared over the past decade, and Mato Grasso is now Brazil’s leading producer of soy, corn and cattle, exported across the globe by multinational companies.

Deforestation, a critical contributor to climate change, effectively accounts for 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and 70 percent of the emissions in Brazil. Halting new deforestation, experts say, is as powerful a way to combat warming as closing the world’s coal plants.

But until now, there has been no financial reward for keeping forest standing. Which is why a growing number of scientists, politicians and environmentalists argue that cash payments — like that offered to Mr. Marcolini — are the only way to end tropical forest destruction and provide a game-changing strategy in efforts to limit global warming.

Unlike high-tech solutions like capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide or making “green” fuel from algae, preserving a forest yields a strikingly simple environmental payback: a landowner reduces his property’s emissions to zero.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, said that deforestation “absolutely” needed to be addressed by a new international climate agreement being negotiated this year. “But people cut down trees because there is an economic rationale for doing it, and you need to provide them with a financial alternative,” he said.

Both the most recent draft of the agreement and the climate bill passed by the House in late June in the United States include plans for rich countries and companies to pay the poor to preserve their forests.

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