​Developing Nations Deal with Climate Change More Successfully

More than a dozen tropical developing countries have implemented policies to reduce rates of deforestation and cut their net emissions of global warming pollution. According to recent studies, it's working. In fact, these countries may have already accomplished more for the climate than many developed nations.

In the 1990s, an average of 16 million hectares of forest were being cleared per year, which accounted for about 17% of all climate emissions. By the early 2000s, deforestation was down 19% to 13 million hectares. Currently, deforestation is responsible for about 10% of climate emissions globally.

Brazil is the world leader in this effort, says a study published in Science magazine. Since 2004, farmers and ranchers have spared over 86,000 square kilometers of rainforests from clear-cutting. Saving these forests amounts to a 70% decline in deforestation and 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere.

A report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) likewise highlights Brazil's accomplishment, noting:

Both government and business actions were important. Federal and state governments set up protected areas and indigenous reserves that now cover over half the Amazon, with more than 20% under the control of indigenous groups. The soybean and cattle industries declared voluntary moratoria on clearing forests to make way for production, with retailers, exporters, and processors promising not to buy from ranches and farms responsible for deforestation. Strong legal action by public prosecutors enforced these moratoria, as well as existing laws against cutting forests. And Norway, through a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) agreement that has already paid Brazil over $ 670 million, showed that the international community would support successful action on deforestation with its money, not just its mouth.

But while Brazil leads the pack, 16 other nations around the world have had similar success stories. "What's surprising is the number of countries that are effectively protecting their tropical forests and the wide variety of policies and programs that are working, "says Doug Boucher, director of the UCS Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. "There's no one right way to stop deforestation, but rather a smorgasbord of options."

In Kenya, for instance, the Kasigau Project — which connects two separate parts of Tsavo National Park — has been supported by private funds from the voluntary carbon market. These credits are used to lease land from ranchers and farmer, and to pay rangers and to establish businesses, such as a clothing factory, that provides employment aside from that associated with forest clearing.

Such initiatives, Boucher says, demonstrate that economic development doesn't have to be hindered by reductions in deforestation: "The soy and beef industry in Brazil thrived despite moratoria preventing deforestation. Vietnam expanded agricultural production and forest area simultaneously, and Costa Rica's well-protected forests attract millions of ecotourists each year."