For all the fuss that is made about Tesla and the coming generation of electric cars, policy-makers should not overlook the importance of tropical forest conservation.
Deforestation and forest degradation account for roughly a sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions, a share larger than all the world’s planes, trains, ships, trucks, and cars. Further, the impacts of deforestation extent well beyond climate: forests play a critical role in hydrological functions, ensuring local and regional rainfall; help control erosion and reduce the risk of flooding; are a source of renewable products that sustain tens of millions; and house unique indigenous cultures and perhaps half of global terrestrial biodiversity.
Electric cars aren’t necessarily the friend of the environment. If the electricity used to power the car comes from coal plant, an electric car is hardly emissions-free. Further the materials and energy that go into the production of a new car are considerable.
Thus policymakers would be wise to give forest conservation a central role in the post-Kyoto climate change treaty, establishing a mechanism that compensates tropical countries for avoiding deforestation and reforesting cleared lands with native trees. The success of such an approach would hinge benefits reaching people who live in and around forests — they are the ones who will determine the fate of tropical forests. But an “avoided deforestation” program would also need to improve governance and root out corruption in the forestry sector. If money generated through a climate change mechanism is simply lost on bureaucracy or used to fund the establish of plantations or scale up industrial logging, a great opportunity will be squandered.