Secondary forest in Java, Indonesia. Click on image for more photos from Java. (Photo by R. Butler)
ORGANIZATION OF RAINFOREST CONSERVATION
By Rhett Butler | Last updated July 22, 2012
To best meet the complex requirements for rainforest conservation, it is imperative that we balance conservation
efforts between the local, national, and international sectors. Empowerment over forests and their resources should
begin on the local level of individual communities with municipal governments overseeing parks. State agencies—with
guidance and assistance from intergovernmental institutions and non-government organizations (NGOs)— need to help
formulate broader conservation strategies and provide expertise in protecting and managing protected areas. Partnerships
between participants are necessary to fuse scientific, economic, and social information and formulate an overall
plan for the use and conservation of tropical rainforests.
Today many government agencies responsible for biodiversity conservation in the developing world find themselves
financially strained. In addition, in an era of increasing democratization, these organizations are under mounting
pressure from locals demanding access to the large tracts of otherwise productive land held in socially exclusive
reserves. To best address these financial and social pressures, other organizations—foreign governments, intergovernmental
institutions, NGOs, and "green" groups—must step up and provide expertise and financial assistance. However,
government agencies cannot expect to be bailed out completely. They will need to become more accountable to the
needs of local people and to establish measurable objectives, which can be evaluated on a regular basis. In short,
these agencies must increase their productivity and become accountable to their shareholders much like publicly
Governmental Agencies and Policy
Until recently, most governments have sided with the interests of rapid forest exploitation using subsidies
and economic incentives to accelerate the process and earn quick returns. The interests of the local people have
been largely ignored, as have the environmental consequences. These methods are economically flawed because they fail
to weigh the environmental costs of deforestation ranging from soil
erosion to disruption of weather cycles, to drought and floods, to outbreaks of disease. For example, India estimates that it loses 10 percent of its annual
income to environmental degradation, a significant portion of which results from deforestation-induced soil erosion. If governments starting treating their forests as depreciable natural capital instead of
non-renewable income, they could better determine the costs of deforestation.
Some governments are now listening to scientists, economists, human-rights activists, indigenous peoples,
and environmentalists, and are adopting more responsible approaches of managing forests. Developed, industrialized nations see their
chance to help the cause by donating financial support and technical expertise to help initiate new conservation
Some governments are willing to make loans and even cancel debts owed by tropical nations in exchange for environmental
protection (essentially debt-exchange programs). For example, the U.S. has canceled more than a quarter billion dollars of debt owed by tropical countries to fund forest conservation projects. In the 1990s, Germany cleared Kenya of
its $400 million debt when the East African nation agreed to pass environmental legislation.
In the late 1990s, Germany was perhaps the biggest supporter of rainforest conservation among G-8 nations, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl demanding action by other wealthy countries to take action against deforestation. However since the late 2000s, Norway has emerged as the leader on rainforest conservation, pledging 3 billion krone ($500 million) a year to the effort, a sum disproportionate to the small Scandinavian country's size.
But assistance goes beyond financial. Industrialized nations have conservation expertise and technology that can improve reserve management and monitoring.
- Why do government agencies responsible for biodiversity conservation in the developing nations need reform?
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