Measuring Forest Conservation

Deforestation in Nigeria (Foreign and Commonwealth Office photo)

Deforestation in Nigeria (Foreign and Commonwealth Office photo)

The United Kingdom’s Eliasach Report on deforestation and climate change concludes that “Using appropriate techniques, forest emissions can be estimated with similar confidence to emissions estimates in other sectors.” Glenn Horowitz explains the significance of this:

That’s very good news, as approximately 20 percent of total global warming pollution comes from deforestation, more than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, and ships combined. As the United States and the world move towards a system in which these forests are valued for their immense carbon storage, it’s critical that we make those valuations as accurate as possible—so we can know exactly how much a particular forest conservation project (and ultimately a particular country) is actually reducing emissions.

Of course, there’s a key caveat in The Eliasch Review’s conclusion: “using appropriate techniques.” Although these appropriate techniques are available and have been applied in many projects, deploying them at the global scale needed to end deforestation will require financial and human investment.

The investment involved is pretty modest (“the costs of monitoring forest projects are typically less than $1 per ton of carbon reduced, often much less”) but the time scale is quite urgent since deforestation is proceeding very rapidly. What’s more, you tend to have your most severe deforestation issues in countries where the overall quality of governance is low. That tends to make it difficult in practice to do things even if they’re cheap and technically feasible.