A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of dire consequences if the world does not act quickly to curb carbon emissions. The technical and political challenges are daunting. But advocates can point to one area in which progress is being achieved: cutting emissions associated with tropical deforestation. Kojo examines the link between tropical forests and global climate, and explores new initiatives that pay developing nations to preserve their wild areas.


  • Jonah Busch Research Fellow, Center for Global Development
  • Deborah Lawrence Professor of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia


  • 12:27:55

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. In the fight against global climate change, most of these storylines are bleak. This month the intergovernmental panel on climate change issued another dire warning about rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere, that global emissions would have to decline by 40 to 70 percent by mid-century to avoid an environmental crisis. But in one critical area, protecting tropical forests, there's evidence that smart policy can help turn the tide.

  • 12:28:23

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn Brazil's Amazon rainforest, deforestation has declined by 80 percent in the last decade. And in Guyana, its smaller neighbor to the north, the government has designed and implemented its own low-carbon development strategy to preserve its pristine forests. Both countries have entered into so-called cash-on-delivery deals with the international development agencies, where rich countries offer lump-sum payments worth billions if the poorer countries can prove they are protecting wild areas.

  • 12:28:55

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to discuss the impact of tropical rainforests on climate change and new approaches to protecting these spaces is Jonah Busch. He is a research fellow with the Center for Global Development. Jonah Busch, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:29:06

    MR. JONAH BUSCHThank you very much, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here.

  • 12:29:09

    NNAMDIJoining us from the studios of "With Good Reason," in Charlottesville, Va., is Deborah Lawrence, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. She was a science advisor for climate change at the U.S. Department of State, from 2009 to 2010. Deborah Lawrence, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:29:25

    PROF. DEBORAH LAWRENCEIt's a pleasure to be with you.

  • 12:29:27

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. What role can and what role should wealthy nations like the U.S. play to preserve forests thousands of miles away? What do you think? 800-433-8850. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.

  • 12:29:46

    NNAMDIDeborah Lawrence, the biggest source of carbon in the atmosphere, the biggest driver of climate change is fossil fuels, but forests and especially the destruction of natural forests have had a huge impact on our global climate also. In the late 1990's, early 2000's, deforestation accounted for 20 to 25 percent of all worldwide carbon emissions. Today that number is estimated somewhere closer to 12 percent. What should we make of this worldwide decline?

  • 12:30:16

    LAWRENCEWell, it's certainly promising. However, we shouldn't get too excited because part of the reason for that decline is that fossil fuel emissions have risen so rapidly over the same period. So although the fraction of emissions due to deforestation has gone down, part of that is due to the fact that we have continued to increase fossil fuel emissions.

  • 12:30:37

    NNAMDIJonah, when we typically think about rich countries like the United States helping developing countries, like my own home country of Guyana, we think of traditional development. The systems designed to help combat poverty within a given country. But when we talk about massive rainforests like the Amazon, we're talking about natural systems that benefit the entire world. You say these kinds of global public goods merit a different kind of approach than traditional aid systems. How so?

  • 12:31:06

    BUSCHThat's right, Kojo. Thank you. We're used to thinking about our transfer payments to poorer countries as charity, something to feed hungry bellies or teach inquiring minds. But more and more in this century our transfers to other countries will be about global public goods, things that help them and help us. And climate change is a clear example of this. One carbon molecule going into the atmosphere from Guyana or from the U.S. is the same everywhere. And so we should be trying to keep that carbon on the ground, in the forests and be willing to pay for that.

  • 12:31:43

    NNAMDIThe Center for Global Development has been promoting a different framework for delivering aid in this kind of context. Tell us about cash-on-delivery aid.

  • 12:31:52

    BUSCHThat's right. The premise of cash-on-delivery aid is that payers are paying for the outputs of what they would like to see. Number of children that are educated or number of diseases that are avoided, as opposed to inputs like schools built or medicines procured, that may or may not end up in the result we'd like to see. In climate change this means paying for emissions reduced.

  • 12:32:21

    NNAMDII was born and raised in Guyana and let's face it, it's kind of unique place. It's the size of Kansas, but it's only got a population of three-quarters of a million people. 75 percent of the country is covered by wild forests. Tell us a little bit about how the country designed its low-carbon development strategy, as they call it there, and how the government of Norway ended up being a part of that and working with them.

  • 12:32:46

    BUSCHYes. It's an amazing forest. And as you mentioned, Guyana is almost unique among tropical countries in that it hasn't done what so many have done, clearing the forest for economic development. We did that in our own country over the last few centuries. And now Brazil, Indonesia, countries of the world are following that path. Guyana is aspiring to a different path. In 2009 they committed to a low-carbon development strategy to grow economically without clearing the rainforests of the country.

  • 12:33:21

    NNAMDIAnd how does that strategy work and how do you monitor that strategy?

  • 12:33:26

    BUSCHSo the -- it's monitored now by satellites. We have very sophisticated satellites that can measure how much deforestation happens all over the world, including in Guyana, and how much carbon was in those forests. So as part of this agreement with Norway, Guyana has built a very sophisticated satellite monitoring system. It can track its deforestation. It can see if it's going up or down. And it can even see what's causing it, can attribute loss to mining or logging.

  • 12:34:00

    NNAMDIHow does it get paid for that by Norway?

  • 12:34:03

    BUSCHSo it takes the satellite measurements. It calculates what -- how many emissions have happened. And it subtracts that roughly from what emissions would have been in the absence of any payment. And then at the end of the year, after it's verified by a third party, Norway makes a payment. So deforestation stays at very low rates. If deforestation is zero, Guyana receives about $50 million in that year. And if deforestation goes up then the payments go down.

  • 12:34:37

    NNAMDIDeborah, you are not 100 percent convinced that this Guyana example points the way forward for the broader global challenge of preserving wild spaces. Why not?

  • 12:34:48

    LAWRENCEWell, my only sense is that Guyana has not gone down the path of deforestation. So, in a way, they aren't facing the same kinds of drivers that many tropical countries are, where they have already invested their economies in deforestation activities, activities that clear forests for agriculture or perhaps mining or logging. So in most places, they don't have -- they're already deforesting.

  • 12:35:19

    LAWRENCESo to get these countries to stop deforesting, I think will take some very clever approaches and some very flexible ideas, in terms of how we're going to get those countries to go down a different path. They have already begun on this path and we're going to have to help them figure out how to get off that path of deforestation.

  • 12:35:42

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Deborah Lawrence. She's a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia, and Jonah Busch, who is a research fellow with the Center for Global Development. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you consider rainforests to be a global public good? Do you feel a responsibility and a sense of ownership over wild areas in other parts of the world? You can also send us email to kojo@wamu.org.

  • 12:36:08

    NNAMDIDeborah, I mentioned a particularly striking statistic at the top of the show, that Brazil has managed some historic strides in its effort to cut down on deforestation over the past decade, down 80 percent since 2004. But the picture's a little more complex. Last year the rate of deforestation in Brazil actually increased for the first time in a few years. And a new report this week indicates that climate changes could make much of the forests more susceptible to catastrophic fires. Is this a glass half-empty, half-full story/

  • 12:36:45

    LAWRENCEI'm hoping that the glass is still half full. I think what Brazil has achieved is truly remarkable. And although I see that their numbers have increased in the past year, so I think we can't disregard the incredible strides they've made, not only in the sheer number of hectares that they have managed to conserve, but the real dramatic changes that have occurred in the way they're governing their forests and that they're actually creating and implanting laws.

  • 12:37:18

    LAWRENCEAnd they are following through and prosecuting people who break those laws. And they are engaging their entire society in monitoring and thinking about the future of their forests. So I am -- I'm very much half full on Brazil. I think they're doing great. The risk you talked about in terms of susceptibility to fire is a very real risk for many regions with climate change. So that you can imagine as the climate warms things can dry out.

  • 12:37:48

    LAWRENCEAnd if you already have people on that landscape, the chance for fire is very good. Some of those fires are deliberate, but some of them escape. And so climate change can interact with having people on the landscape just trying to make a living. And there can be some pretty dramatic results.

  • 12:38:07

    NNAMDIAnd given your characterization of the program that has been implemented in Brazil, what do you see as the reason for deforestation there increasing last year for the first time in a few years?

  • 12:38:21

    LAWRENCEI'm not really sure why it increased. One of the things that does vary from time to time is the price of commodities. And most places where deforestation is occurring, it's occurring for industrial agriculture, which supports products that you and I consume. So our demand can go up and we can increase the price for goods that are produced in tropical forest countries. So it could be commodity prices. I'm not really sure what's happening in Brazil, but…

  • 12:38:50

    NNAMDIIt's one of the concerns -- if you don't mind my interrupting -- that Henry…

  • 12:38:54


  • 12:38:55

    NNAMDI…in Upper Marlboro, Md. has. He's on the phone. Henry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:39:01

    HENRYHi. Hi, Kojo. And hello to your guests. Thanks for this very important topic. In Brazil, unfortunately, after a decade or more of very progressive policies protecting the forests, things are going downhill now. The focus is so much on development, the things that Deborah mentioned and other things, like mining, logging, and what have you.

  • 12:39:35

    HENRYSecondly, one of the worst things that's happening is the -- that indigenous peoples, who are the best protectors of these lands, are being decimated. They're being driven off their lands, in some cases there have been terrible tragedies where people have been killed.

  • 12:39:55

    NNAMDIWell, those have been well-documented. You seem to be suggesting that that is on the increase again, which causes me to ask you, Jonah Busch, do we know why the rate of deforestation declined so precipitously in Brazil and why it went up last year?

  • 12:40:09

    BUSCHWell, the deforestation has gone down in Brazil for a number of reasons. One of the best is that they have been enforcing their forest laws. Many countries have forest laws that govern how they'll be cleared, but many don't enforce them very well. Brazil had put in place excellent monitoring of where their forest were being cleared, and then used those monitoring alerts to send in law enforcement when the laws were being violated.

  • 12:40:38

    BUSCHAt the same time, they removed some subsidies to growers to be clearing land and instead put in place incentives to be growing more crops, more soy and beef on already cleared land. The result of that is that while Brazil's deforestation fell 80 percent over the last decade, its soy and beef production continue to climb, never fell off and went up about 50 percent over the same period. A remarkable success story.

  • 12:41:08

    NNAMDIBrazil and Indonesia, unlike, say, Guyana, a more fully integrated into global marketplaces for coveted raw materials. Brazil, as you were just pointing out, soybean crop has been fueling the expansion of farming into rainforest while Indonesia has been expanding palm oil and timber extractions. In these situations, money from development agencies is essentially competing with money from the private sector. Deborah, does that make it harder to change the economic incentives that fuel deforestation?

  • 12:41:40

    LAWRENCEI'm sure it does. But at the same time, there is a movement, I would say, not just by consumers but by producers themselves of some of these products and producers of these commodities that they're aware that if they engage in unsustainable practices, including clearing pristine forest that they encounter economic risks not only because their consumers may not choose to purchase those products, but because in fact doing a bad job of producing your crop on the land, deforesting vast areas of forest that perhaps already have people living in them.

  • 12:42:23

    LAWRENCEThis is not good business practice. So, in fact, the participation of the private sector in this landscape is not necessarily a bad thing. It's bringing a powerful ally, in a sense, onto the scene. These people are looking at their bottom line and saying, deforestation is not good for our bottom line.

  • 12:42:43

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on deforestation and climate change. If you've already called, stay on the line, we'll get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. How should the U.S. and wealthier countries go about helping to preserve wild spaces? You can also send us an email to kojo@wamu.org or tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on deforestation and climate change. We're talking with Jonah Busch, he's a research fellow with the Center for Global Development. Deborah Lawrence is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. She was a science adviser for climate change at the U.S. Department of State from 2009 to 2010. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.

  • 12:45:22

    NNAMDIWe got a caller who could not stay on the line, Jonah, who said, "We hear of other countries sending money and support to save forests, but how much of that money actually gets to the people and organizations that need it? From what I read from your reporting, Guyana has earned about $115 million so far from Norway. The problem is trying to make sure there's a process to get that money where it is most needed. So where is it most needed? Presumably in organizations that are helping to do and what's the problem?"

  • 12:45:53

    BUSCHThat's a great question, Kojo. So when your caller mentions other countries, we should point out that Guyana is doing with Norway is important not only for the forest in Guyana but as an experiment that many other countries will be watching and learning from. So Guyana and Norway are one of the fastest and first of these agreements. Others are less far along. And other countries will be looking to jump in, either on the forest side or on the donor side, and they'll be looking to see whether this Guyana-Norway agreement has worked. I was back in Guyana last month...

  • 12:46:29

    NNAMDIYeah, because you were first there in 2009. You spent six weeks there.

  • 12:46:32

    BUSCHI spent six weeks there in 2009. I had the privilege of being seconded to the office of the president of that time while the agreement was being designed. And I was back last month with the president of my organization, Center for Global Development Nancy Birdsall to ask the question that your caller asked. How has it been working and is the money getting to the people on the ground?

  • 12:46:56

    BUSCHThe idea, of course, is that after Guyana earns the money by keeping its deforestation rates low, they can put that to supporting the low carbon development strategy that they have in mind. So seawalls to protect the population that lives below sea level, hydroelectric power upgrades of the fiber optic system and so forth. Now, what we found is that even though Guyana has upheld its part of the bargain and has kept its deforestation rates very near zero and very low by world standards.

  • 12:47:30

    BUSCHAnd even though Norway has upheld its part of the bargain by paying more than $100 million, that money is stuck in Escrow. The money has gone to intermediary, multilateral banks. They're holding on to it and they don't want to release until they can be 100 percent sure of every rule they have on social, environmental, fiduciary standards. And that's a typical process they have and it can take years. So the money is getting delayed.

  • 12:48:02

    NNAMDIDeborah, can you talk a little bit about the role rainforest play in taking carbon out of the environment and moderating the global temperature. The common analogy used to describe the Amazon is the lungs of the planet. But you prefer a different analogy. Why are rainforests like armpits?

  • 12:48:20

    LAWRENCEWell, I wish I had a better way of putting it. The reason they're like armpits is that you can think about them as sweating. So we sweat to cool ourselves. And forests move a lot of water from the soil into the atmosphere. And in so doing, they cool the area locally and they can contribute to cooling of climate more regionally and ultimately at the global scale. However, the major impact of tropical forests and forests around the world is really their role in sequestering carbon, holding carbon, and most importantly, acting as a carbon sink for the carbon that we put into the atmosphere.

  • 12:49:04

    LAWRENCEIf we put in 10 gigatons of carbon a year, half of that stays in the atmosphere, a fourth of it goes into the ocean, and a fourth of it goes into forests and the land. So we need these forests to stay around because they are keeping our atmosphere in much better shape than it would be without them.

  • 12:49:23

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Arlene in Potomac, MD. Arlene, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:49:29

    ARLENEHi, thanks. I need help because I have constantly wanting to give money to a charity that will help protect the Amazon. And I can find where my money would be placed, but I don't know how effective policies are. Can you give me concrete, kind of specific way of figuring out, you know, where to give my money or what I, as a consumer, I'm careful about soy. I don't eat beef and all that kind of stuff in terms of getting money, yeah.

  • 12:50:07

    NNAMDIJonah Busch?

  • 12:50:09

    BUSCHWell, that's a great question, Arlene. And the -- first, before I answer your question of which organizations, this idea of value for money, making sure that the donor gets what they pay for is ingrained in cash on delivery aid and results based payments for forests. So Norway has the same question. They only make the payments after they've seen that Guyana has done what it's said to do, which is keep deforestation rates low.

  • 12:50:40

    BUSCHNow, there's a lot of international organizations working on tropical forests. And one great one within Guyana is the Iwokrama International Center. They have an agreement with the commonwealth, the UK and other governments to try to take an area, a large area of tropical forest in Guyana and figure out a business model where it can be profitably producing commodities without being cleared.

  • 12:51:18

    ARLENEOkay. Yeah, that's good.

  • 12:51:19

    NNAMDIArlene, were you also looking for organizations in the United States? I don't know if Deborah Lawrence can help with that.

  • 12:51:23

    ARLENENo, no, no, like, for the Amazon like in Brazil would be a big thing also for me if there's any way, if there's any organization that's known to be effective.

  • 12:51:33

    NNAMDIOkay, thank you very much for your call and good luck to you. We got this email from Ellen (sp?), Deborah Lawrence, "To answer your question, I think the U.S. should play a major role in the preservation of forests even if they're far away given that the U.S. contributes more to the depletion of the ozone layer and more to climate change than developing countries."

  • 12:51:51

    NNAMDI"It's known that although developing countries contribute a fraction of harmful pollutant to the environment, they bear the biggest blow in the form of flooding and other extreme weather-related disasters. The U.S. is obligated to help in this preservation effort." How do you feel, Deborah Lawrence? Should the U.S. be a part of this kind of program?

  • 12:52:10

    LAWRENCEI think we should. I think that not only -- and, in fact, I'd say we already have been. In 2009, President Obama pledged a billion dollars for reducing emissions from deforestation. So the U.S. is already involved and is committed to this kind of interaction. There's also a place where it's not only going to benefit these countries, but it can also help us in our own economy if we think about the fact that one molecule of carbon dioxide coming from anywhere has the same ill effects.

  • 12:52:45

    LAWRENCEIf we can avoid deforestation and have our power companies have the ability to perhaps offset some of their emissions by avoiding deforestation, that's helpful to them as they figure out how to switch to a low carbon energy system. So there's ways that avoiding deforestation can help countries far away.

  • 12:53:09

    LAWRENCEThey can leapfrog over this destructive time of using all their natural resources for development, perhaps leapfrog over that, get to the other side where they maintain forests and have a lower carbon development system. And, meanwhile, we get a chance to figure out how to change our economy so that we can actually produce energy without so many carbon emissions.

  • 12:53:33

    NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because, Jonah, it's probably worth noting here that the U.S. and Europe once had sizable forests also and that the prosperity countries in the developed world enjoy today, that was made possible in part by exploiting those resources over the centuries. So I bring this up because developing countries are really being asked to not exploit the natural wealth and economic potential they have. How much of this debate is really about global economic fairness?

  • 12:54:03

    BUSCHA lot of it is, Kojo. The international negotiations are not known for moving quickly. But, in fact, one of the fastest horses in this very slow race has been reducing emissions from deforestation. It's one area where rich countries like the U.S. and developing countries like Guyana can agree and have agreed. The U.S. has certainly -- we cleared our forests a long time ago. And these days, our emissions are almost entirely from fossil fuels.

  • 12:54:38

    BUSCHSo that's what we hear most about in this country. But in other parts of the world, deforestation still is a very large part of emissions to the atmosphere. In Latin America, more than half of greenhouse gas emissions are from deforestation. And it's thought that stopping deforestation is actually one of the quickest, easiest and cheapest ways to combat climate change. Because what on earth could be easier than not cutting a tree?

  • 12:55:09

    NNAMDIBut, Deborah Lawrence, what do you say if those countries say, well, heck, you used the cutting of forests in your development and now when we're about to develop and about to do the same thing, all of a sudden you tell us no, that's not a good idea.

  • 12:55:22

    LAWRENCEWell, we can say, no, that's not a good idea. But it's more powerful if we say, and we're willing to pay you not to do it. So that's what Norway has done in Guyana and Brazil and Indonesia. And that's quite powerful to say we understand that we are asking you to give something up. I think, though, that we can also argue that there is a chance, especially if we can figure out a way to support these economies as they're in their own transitions.

  • 12:55:54

    LAWRENCEThere's a reason that you want to keep your forests around. With a changing climate, having forest resources intact means that adaptation will be much easier. Freshwater resources will be more reliable. Plants and animals will have more of a chance to adjust, keeping our ecosystems intact or at least in good shape. So I think there are reasons for these countries to not do what we did. I think they have a different scenario ahead of them with a changing climate and the chance to actually, as I said, leapfrog over the stage where you actually deforest everything and then let it come back, which is what we did.

  • 12:56:36

    NNAMDIJonah, here in the U.S., basic climate science is highly polarizing. They say nothing of attempts to curtail carbon emissions, which have often been labeled as job killers. So it's one thing for a Nordic country to put money into this idea. Is there any likelihood that USAID or any government agency would do the same? As Deborah pointed out earlier, President Obama has already put money in this, but what do you say?

  • 12:57:00

    BUSCHWell, there are -- there is money, as Deborah said, coming from aid budgets. It's small and modest relative to what we could be doing. But let's remember in 2009, back when the U.S. was seriously discussing federal legislative action on climate change, the bill that passed the House, Waxman-Markey, contained provisions for billions of dollars a year of buying emission reductions from tropical forest countries, so did the bill that never made it to the floor of the Senate.

  • 12:57:34

    BUSCHSo it -- we were certainly talking about doing this years ago. And if we're ever back in that same position and I certainly hope we are soon, then we should be not only reducing our forest -- our fuel emissions at home but supporting reducing forest emissions abroad.

  • 12:57:55

    NNAMDIJonah Busch, he's a research fellow with the Center for Global Development. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:58:00

    BUSCHThank you very much, Kojo.

  • 12:58:01

    NNAMDIDeborah Lawrence is a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. Deborah Lawrence, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:08

    LAWRENCEThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:58:09

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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