Cutting forests is the third-largest source of climate-warming carbon emissions today, larger than the emissions produced by either the US or China. Including them in a "carbon market" is a tempting solution.
It comes down to this: Today, trees are worth more dead than alive. This despite the fact that they stash away billions of tons of carbon in their soil and themselves and constantly inhale more carbon from the atmosphere. They also help regulate the earth's climate in other ways, influencing rainfall patterns far away, including in the US. And they contain unique plant and animal life, the economic value of which is only beginning to be understood.
Yet no dollar figure is placed on these vital services. Instead, tropical forests are cut down in favor of enterprises such as palm oil plantations or cattle grazing, endeavours that make money here and now. It’s easy to see why rain forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate.
A report to the British government this month suggests that the way to recognize the true value of forests is by including them in carbon markets. Polluters around the world could earn credits to offset their own carbon emissions by paying for forest preservation.
A carbon sink needs to be valued as much as a carbon source. Making this really happen is of course very difficult, needing accurate forest cover mappings (now available), and strict enforcement in countries that may be hard to monitor.
The moral hazard of giving people money to do “nothing” of course is something conservatives will not like, but the trees are not doing “nothing”. Paying people for stewardship is not wrong. There would be an opportunity to change an extractive subsistence based economy into a service economy, with sustainable tourism, shade grown coffee, local guards and forest officers, etc.
I like this idea very much. Carbon offset markets have gotten a bad name recently, but a larger scale program is necessary.