One of the facts of conservation is that the more prosperous a society is, the more likely it is to protect its natural environment. In contrast, less developed nations are prone to exploit and destroy their own in their drive toward greater prosperity. The problem, of course, is that much, if not most, of the world's most biodiverse forests are in developing countries that often cannot afford to protect them from deforestation by loggers, farmers and land developers.
What to do? One solution, proposed by a professor of environmental economics at the University of Oslo in Norway, is this: let the rich nations pay the poorest to protect their forests. By doing so, rich nations can ensure that the poorest countries develop sustainably, which is in the interest of everyone, rich or poor, across the planet because it will help reduce our collective carbon footprints.
The scheme introduces the concept of "conservation goods", according to which rich nations effectively function as "buyers" who buy forests from "sellers" in poorer nations. However, unlike traditional buyer-seller agreements, these buyers will not consume “the goods” (ie forests) but will buy them to prevent sellers from consuming them themselves.
It would be a win-win for rich and poor nations alike, because we would all benefit far more from preserving those forests than from removing them. Deforestation in countries like Malaysia with its vast tracts of tropical forests leads both to loss of biodiversity with unique ecosystems and to climate change through diminishing natural “carbon sinks” (trees, that is).
The idea is based on the environmental concept of the “global commons”, according to which rich and irreplaceable natural resources are treated as the collective property, as well as the collective responsibility, of the people of the entire planet, not just the host nations. .
Today, however, rich nations do not help poor nations financially in their conservation efforts until their unique natural resources, such as rainforests, are at visible risk. "We have reached a stalemate," said investigator Bard Harstad. "This fundamental contradiction means that the market for conservation is not efficient and that a forest must be registered gradually to secure the necessary funding to protect it."
More than 30% of the planet is currently covered with forests, but each year around 120,000-150,000 square kilometers of forest are lost due to logging, fire and other forms of degradation. That equates to 48 soccer fields per minute. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), nearly a quarter of the planet's human inhabitants, or about 1.6 billion people, depend on forests for their livelihoods.
To save those forests, wealthy nations in the so-called global North should commit to paying poorer nations in the global South regularly to keep those forests intact. International mechanisms with binding treaties must be established to ensure that payments are made properly and that forests are properly protected from logging. "For conservation to work, it is not important that the payment is made today, but the commitment to future compensation must already be in place," Harstad stressed.