Leading article: The real cost of conservation

Share

A group of developing countries will submit an innovative proposal to the UN conference on climate change when it opens in Montreal today. Led by Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea, they will ask rich countries to pay them not to destroy their rain forests.

Their initiative is a welcome attempt to apply new thinking to a longstanding conundrum. Developed countries regularly express consternation about the acreage of rainforest lost to logging and farming. They argue, rightly, that rainforest depletion jeopardises the absorption of greenhouse gases and risks speeding up global warming.

For rich countries to condemn poorer countries for cutting down their trees, however, is widely resented by the people of those countries - and with good reason. Tropical hardwoods fetch good prices. Why should the people who live in these regions not capitalise on what is often their only saleable commodity? And, when the trees are gone, why should they not raise their living standards further by growing crops on the land or accepting investment for industrial production? The fact that these regions are often populated by the very poorest of indigenous peoples only makes the argument more compelling.

A common view in these countries is that preaching conservation for the greater global good overlooks their local and national interests. Retaining the forests, they say, artificially retards their development and could consign them to poverty in perpetuity. These are valid points. After all, by what right do we - who chopped down our own forests and underwent our own industrial revolutions long ago - try to block others from following the same path to prosperity?

In broaching payment in return for conservation, the poor countries are playing by rules the rich world can understand. Their suggestion bears comparison with schemes already in place, in Afghanistan and some parts of South America, for discouraging the production of illegal drugs.

The drawbacks, though, will also bear comparison. Discouraging farmers from cultivating illegal crops generally costs much more than the rich countries are prepared to pay. Such is the discrepancy between the price opium poppies and other crops command.

Agreeing a price for the conservation of the rainforest will present similar difficulties, especially as international pressure has so far seemed to suffice. A more positive approach might be for the rich to finance the development of clean energy in these countries. But the fundamental question is a good one: what is the price of conserving the rainforest - and are the rich countries prepared to pay?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne walks down the stairs from a submarine during a visit to the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane on August 31, 2015 in Faslane Scotland  

Sorry George Osborne, but it's Trident that makes us less safe, not Jeremy Corbyn

Kate Hudson
Fighters from Isis parading in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Islamic State’ has its capital; Iranian-backed Shia militia are already fighting the group on the ground in Iran  

Heartlessness towards refugees is the lifeblood of jihadist groups like Isis

Charlie Winter
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent