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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Study supports U.N. plan to use economic incentives to protect rainforests


"Save the Rainforest" could become more than just a slogan if a bold conservation plan is hammered out by United Nations negotiators meeting in Germany this week.

That's the underlying message from a new study on rainforest preservation co-authored by researchers from Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology.

Writing in the June 9 issue of the journal Science, the authors provide data supporting a U.N. proposal that would give rich nations an economic incentive to finance tropical forest conservation programs in poor countries.

Logging is only one threat facing Madagascar’s rainforests, says biologist Claire Kremen. After timber companies leave, taking most of the profits with them, itinerant farmers travel on logging roads to slash and burn the remaining forest, leading to further destruction. Scientists estimate that only about 10 percent of Madagascar’s original forests still exist. (Photo courtesy of Claire Kremen.)

The innovative plan, known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), would have the primary goal of helping protect the entire planet from the ravages of global warming, according to the Science report.

"For once we have the opportunity to have a win-win situation," says Claire Kremen, a senior scientist with the Stanford center and lead author of the Science study.

"So often in conservation," she notes, "there are two opponents pitted against one another -- one wants conservation, the other wants development. Here we have a situation where economic interests and conservation can go hand in hand."

Kyoto summit

The CDM plan was first proposed at the 1997 United Nations summit on climate change in Kyoto, Japan. The goal of the summit was to prevent global warming by requiring industrialized nations to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and gasoline-burning vehicles.

Accumulation of these gases in the air prevents solar heat from escaping the atmosphere, which causes the Earth's temperature to increase.