By Ben Seabrook
Paying Ugandan farmers not to chop down trees cut deforestation in half and was almost 50 times more cost effective in fighting climate change than many energy efficiency programmes in the United States, according to a study released last Thursday. The study, by researchers from the U.S.’s Northwestern University and Dutch organization Porticus, involved 121 villages with half paid about $28 a year for every hectare of forest left untouched, while the others continued as normal. Using satellite images to track deforestation over two years, the researchers found 5.5 more hectares of forest – the equivalent of five rugby pitches – was preserved in the villages in the payment programme compared to the other villages.
This amounted to 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide not being released into the atmosphere at a cost of 46 cents per ton, researchers said, describing the experimental study as the first of its kind to show the impact of programmes like this. “Small investments can go much further in poor countries. So we wanted to test if simply paying farmers not to cut down trees could be a win for them and a very cheap way to help manage greenhouse gas emissions,” lead author and Northwestern University economist Seema Javachandran said in a statement.
“We often focus our environmental programs on our own country, which is important. But it’s easy to forget that a lot of the best opportunities lie in the developing world.”
The study, in the journal Science, said programmes like this could be an important step to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change; which aims to keep average world temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times. About 70 percent of Ugandan forests are on private land, often owned by poor farmers, who tend to cut down trees for timber and charcoal and use the cleared land for crops.
Forest emission schemes have garnered greater attention with REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a U.N.-based push to reduce carbon dioxide emissions though having developed countries pay poorer nations to protect their forests which store carbon.