AVOIDING TROPICAL PITFALLS
RISKS OF TROPICAL PROJECTS
Only reforestation removes increased carbon from the atmosphere. REDD+ offsetting schemes on the other hand, aim to protect existing tropical forests. REDD+ stands for: reduction of environmental degradations and deforestation. REDD+ schemes face real challenges. According to Forest Trends:
illegal logging is estimated to be the most profitable natural resource crime worldwide
accounts for up to 30% of the global trade in timber products
and a much higher proportion in the tropics where it can account for the majority of forestry activity
generates up to $150 billion USD per year
it is impossible to ensure that tropical ecosystems are being sustainably managed
It is almost impossible to protect tropical forest in remote, ungoverned areas of South America, Central Africa, SE Asia and the Subcontinent.
Tree plantations have dubious ecological merits. They are planted in countries with exploitative wages, and typically with a single specie of tree to keep costs to a minimum. They are a very poor substitute for tropical rainforest, which is the most biodiverse ecosystem on land.
Ecologists refer to tropical tree plantations as 'green deserts' as they are almost devoid of insect, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal life. Even worse, they can create a perverse incentive to clear cut virgin forest and replace it with tree farms. Plantations can be promoted by international charities with a KPI for number of trees planted, rather than robust conservation objectives.
Community Tree projects were initiated by international development charities like Oxfam under the theme of community development, rather than by conservation charities working in the arena of sustainability. Whilst a strong case can be made in relation to community development, the sustainability case is weaker. As mentioned above, there are inherent risks to tree projects in SE Asia, South America, Central Africa and the Subcontinent.
Population growth is greatest in the Developing World. Among the greatest causes of deforestation are firewood collecting and overgrazing. As these Community Tree Projects are typically sited adjacent to villages they are at significant risk from both activities. So they are unlikely to create woodlands that will naturally regenerate for generations to come.
The sustainability of the planet will rely on locating re-forestry initiatives in parts of the world where they are unlikely to be eradicated by population growth. In the Scottish Highlands, the population is lower now than it was in 1800. So reforestation projects there are insulated from worldwide population growth.
Global Population Growth
Year Population %
1990 5.2 billion 15.2%
2000 6.0 billion 12.6%
2010 6.8 billion 10.7%
2020 7.6 billion 8.7% (est)