The Guardian

Trees soak up greenhouse gases, so how do we ensure their protection? Our experts offer seven ideas for the conservation and restoration of forests

Indonesia forest clearing

How do you stop the destruction of forests for agriculture or timber? Photograph: Kemal Jufri / GREENPEACE/EPA

How to stop deforestation: ‘Indigenous people are the best park rangers’

Trees soak up greenhouse gases, so how do we ensure their protection? Our experts offer seven ideas for the conservation and restoration of forests

1 | Stop subsidising agriculture that harms forests

Countries need to stop using outdated fiscal policies for agriculture. In some places, such as Brazil and Indonesia, the amount spent by their governments on subsidising agriculture is more than 100 times higher than the international funding provided to those countries for forest conservation. It sends out a contradictory message if a government is signing up to zero deforestation commitments on one hand, whilst simultaneously making deforestation more attractive to farmers.

Some countries are taking positive steps, however. Ecuador, for example, has 27 different subsidies to support palm oil production. Once they found out that some of these subsidies can harm forests, the ministers of environment and agriculture got together and agreed to review the country’s fiscal policy framework, to better align it with sustainable development. We need more of these types of holistic, coherent policy reforms. Tim Christophersen, UN-REDD team leader, UN Environment, Nairobi, Kenya @TimChristo

2 | Invest in indigenous people

Forest dwellers are best placed be the first ones to indicate threats and call for help. In the past, radio units were installed in some indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon and they did wonders. I think the more we invest in getting low cost tech resources like this to people living in forests, the more we will get in return to fight deforestation. There are 20 million people living in the Brazilian Amazon, we should support their role in protecting their forests. They are the best park rangers as their cultures and livelihoods depend on healthy forests. Yet support rarely reaches them. Rachel Biderman, director for World Resources Institute Brazil, World Resources Institute, Sao Paulo, Brazil @rachel_biderman

3 | Talk about the causes of deforestation

There is a lack of understanding about the pressures and demands being placed on forests and dialogue around alternative sustainable options. For example, we know that in sub-saharan Africa the vast majority of wood is used for household energy – this puts enormous pressure on local forests and reflects the really tough choices poor local communities have to make every day. Elsewhere the choice is often between keeping forests standing or removing them for agriculture to take place. It appears a binary choice but it should not be. Going forward we need to think about how these pressures can be best absorbed – having a full and frank dialogue with all the people involved is essential. Ian Gray, coordinator, Forest Investment Program, Washington DC, USA

Rural landscape of Yangshuo town outskirts, Guangxi Province, Guilin area, China
Rural landscape of Yangshuo town outskirts, Guangxi Province, Guilin area, China
Photograph: Wayhunters/Alamy

4 | Show that conservation is not a barrier to economic development

It’s essential for the protection and restoration of tropical forests to actively dispute the false dichotomy between environmental stewardship and economic development.

Even in the short term the evidence is that countries are generally much better off – in terms of the productivity of their agriculture, in terms of local environmental benefits, in terms of social justice – through well-managed land use that combines forest protection and restoration with sustainable management of forests and higher productivity agriculture, than with the model now often prevailing.

Several governments are realising this and taking measures to change the paradigm. Brazil’s remarkable reduction in deforestation in the Amazon went hand in hand with impressive agricultural growth. Per Pharo, director, The Norwegian Climate and Forest Initiative, Oslo, Norway

5 | Pressure companies to monitor supply chains

If companies want to meet the zero deforestation target by 2020, they need to increase their ambitions and be more effective at implementation. They have to set up effective monitoring systems that are transparent, so consumers can hold them accountable. Governments also have a role to play in supporting companies meet these targets. For example, Brazil has a lot of data that would help companies to control their whole supply chain, but it is not available. The commercialisation of illegally sourced cattle is an example. The information that would allow companies to monitor indirect suppliers is not shared with them. Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon campaigner, Greenpeace Brazil, Manaus, Brazil @crmazzet

Companies need to activate partners in forested countries to closely monitor their supply chains. They cannot do it by satellite images only. NGOs, communities and indigenous groups can all help in monitoring what is going on close to the ground, but companies need to invest some money if they want the job done properly. Rachel Biderman

In a previous role I was responsible for implementing such commitments for a large multinational firm and I can tell you from direct experience the primary bottleneck is cost. Sustainable supply chains, especially in forest products, are expensive. A verified sustainable source generally costs about three times more than a traditional source. However, there are some environmental NGOs who are amazing partners in helping develop unique approaches to building sustainable forest product supply chains. Greenpeace for example, has consistently provided accurate and genuine guidance. Guardian commenter Cateernaut

Baka tribe, Central Africa
Forest dwellers are best placed be the first ones to indicate threats and call for help – invest in providing them with the resources to monitor forest abuse Photograph: Susan Schulman / Barcroft Images

6 | Take action at a local and a national level

Brazil has shown the effectiveness of indigenous territories in maintaining forest cover. The Xingu reserve can be seen from space! But national policy action is needed to give those territories the status of legally recognised protected areas backed up by the state. Similarly, the Katingan Project in central Kalimantan, Indonesia has been effective in controlling peat fires but in order to operate, the project needs a government permit, as well as protection from ill-thought-out national policies. Thus, local and national action should go hand-in-hand. Frances Seymour, senior fellow, Center for Global Development, Washington DC, USA @FrancesJSeymour @CGDev

7 | Offer incentives, but also be vigilant on enforcement

Incentive-based forest protection schemes can work if the incentives are sufficiently strong. But presently there is not enough funding around for that to happen. There is also a very important question of who to incentivise. Under the UN Climate Change Convention the answer has been that countries must be incentivised because this is a public policy issue. Then countries must decide how to structure their efforts: taxes, enforcement, regulations or incentives, but most likely a mix of all.

Deforestation is rising again in the Amazon and there is a good case to be made that this has been caused by less vigilance on enforcement, not over-reliance on incentives. Bottom line: laws and regulations that are well enforced are essential to protect forests. Without this, any incentive structure is bound to fail.