The world’s tropical forests should not fit in your grandmother’s attic

Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR
Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

In Indonesia, forest fires have spiraled out of control throughout much of the country. These fires were started as a way to clear the forests and peat swamps and replace them with palm oil plantations and other agricultural development, but have spread far and wide because of abnormally dry conditions over the past few months. These fires have produced more carbon dioxide over the past few months than Germany or Japan does in a year.

Tropical forests are a key component to any climate change solutions; standing forests help mitigate emissions and climate impacts, while the act of deforestation and the forest fires that deforestation sometimes spawns is one of the more polluting activities that mankind has produced.

Even as the fires in Indonesia continue to rage, international acceptance of a proven solution has yet to penetrate the dense text of the draft international treaty that the United Nations is trying to coordinate. This is a diplomatic process, concluding in December, which argues out almost every word in a 55-page document. And the placement of an issue in the treaty—if it is discussed in the front, middle or back of the document—makes the difference between whether the final agreement will address the issue, or just pay lip service to it.

“If your issue gets stuck in a preambular paragraph,” said Charles Barber of the World Resources Institute, referring to the preamble or introduction of the treaty, “it’s like sticking it in your grandmother’s attic; it’s going to get dusty and forgotten.”

Barber, talking at a conference on forests, governance and climate change earlier this week, was referring to a specific issue—the role of indigenous peoples and local communities in halting deforestation. Study after study has shown that securing the rights —> Read More