Catalyst Summer 2014

[INQUIRY]

Have We Turned a Corner on Deforestation?

Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis at UCS, explains how countries are addressing tropical deforestation—a major contributor to global warming—and how we are promoting these solutions worldwide.

 

Dr. Doug Boucher leads our work with governments, businesses, and consumers to reduce tropical deforestation and the global warming pollution associated with land use. He has written numerous articles and essays in both English and Spanish on a wide range of biological, ecological, and other science-related topics.

What are the most significant recent successes in the effort to slow deforestation?

DB: Palm oil production drives much of the current destruction of tropical forests and peatland, which releases large amounts of global warming pollution [learn more at www.ucsusa.org/palmoilscorecard]. We’ve had big successes recently in getting companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Kellogg, L’Oréal, and Procter and Gamble to commit to sourcing palm oil produced with zero deforestation and zero peat loss. We’ve also made good progress in establishing an international mechanism to reward countries that reduce deforestation. Finally, some tropical countries have made major advances in protecting and restoring forests; our new report Deforestation Success Stories helps publicize what they’ve done and how others can do it too.

What is driving companies and countries to take these steps?

DB: Companies are seeing that consumers are demanding it, and that it helps them ensure a dependable, sustainable supply of the raw materials they need. So it’s not just concern for the environment or even for their brands’ image that’s driving them; it’s also what’s best for their bottom line. I think countries see it as a way to fulfill their international climate commitments, and in some cases like Brazil, Costa Rica, Indonesia, and Mexico, they’ve put these commitments into their domestic policies and laws. For tropical countries that have most of their heat-trapping emissions come from land use, these kinds of actions are the main way they can slow climate change—which they know is going to hurt them the most.

What is the biggest barrier keeping other countries and companies from following suit?

DB: Lack of resources—not just money but also technical support—is certainly a factor. And in some countries the government has limited ability to enforce its laws in a transparent way. But these problems can be overcome; the recent successes in reducing deforestation, even in poor countries with past problems of corruption, have shown that.

How can citizens and organizations such as UCS support forest-friendly policies and practices?

DB: We provide Congress and international negotiators with valuable technical and policy information through our analyses and reports. Often, by showing how problems and conflicts can be resolved if you first get agreement on the science, we play an important mediating role. And our members show businesses and governments that lots of people want them to do the right thing, allowing us to back up our science with consumer and political strength.

Photo: © Sanjay Suchak