Be So Big They Can’t Ignore Us
Why is it so hard to protect tropical forests? After all, we know that we should. Forests are the only way we follow through on Paris Agreement goals. Without forests and other natural climate solutions helping to reduce and remove our excess carbon emissions, a transition to a low-carbon economy likely becomes too expensive for politicians and companies to stick with in these crucial coming decades. Forests are our great library of biodiversity. They are our buffer against new zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.
But forests are also still worth more in today’s economy when they are cut down than they are standing.
Take the price of carbon, for example.
“Today the market only recognizes a very low price for forest carbon credits – only five to seven dollars,” Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO of the Global Environment Facility, told the United Nations Environmental Assembly last week. “But in Costa Rica it takes $17 to [create an] offset for a ton of carbon. We need to generate a price of carbon that matches the opportunity cost of cattle ranching.”
In other words, we need to fix the market failure that destroys ancient forests in favor of ever-cheaper commodities. “There is a number where the economics for conservation becomes overwhelmingly compelling,” as our own Rupert Edwards and our partners in the Green Gigaton Challenge wrote on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda this week.
What’s the magic number? We think one gigaton is a very good start. The Green Gigaton Challenge is building a coalition to secure commitments to buy one gigaton of carbon emissions reductions every year from tropical forest countries, starting in 2025. One gigaton of annual emissions reductions is equivalent to taking 80% of the cars off American roads. It is about half of the additional emissions cuts needed each year in this decade to keep global warming below 2 degrees. And it is only possible if enough countries, companies, and funders work together to send a coordinated signal in favor of forests.
Our partner Emergent has put together a video on the Green Gigaton Challenge, which I share below – enjoy! And after you watch it, please get in touch if you’d like to be a part of this effort.
Of course, economic incentives are of course only a piece of the puzzle. To stop the loss of the world’s forests, we need better scientific data and communities that know how to harness it. We need secure land and carbon rights for indigenous and traditional communities. We need governments to enforce existing laws, and to pass new laws that make bad business models (like clear-cutting forests for beef and palm oil production) obsolete, at the same time that we lift up a new kind of economy.
This Resilience Dispatch is the first in a series we’re rolling out this spring, looking at each of these elements in turn. We’ll be talking to experts and innovators about how they’re solving these challenges, and sharing stories about activists and entrepreneurs at forest frontiers around the world. With each piece, we’ll build a global agenda for forests and climate.