I recently had a chance to travel to Norway, and the question on my mind was: why would this country – with one-third of its land area above the Arctic Circle – care so much about tropical forests?
Norway may be an unlikely champion, but the Norwegians have made rainforest protection a top priority in their strategy to slow climate change. The country’s leaders recognize their importance in combating climate pollution, preserving biodiversity and providing crucial livelihoods to indigenous and forest-dwelling people.
And they back up their leadership with cash. Norway has pledged approximately US$4 billion to help developing countries combat deforestation and is working closely with a handful of key countries – including Brazil, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Guyana – to conserve and better manage their forests. Among Norway’s total commitments is $1 billion to assist Indonesia in taking specific actions to reduce deforestation, and a separate agreement with Brazil.
From urban expansion and the world’s appetite for cheap commodities to cattle ranching cowboys and organized crime rings that deal in illegal timber, the threats to tropical forests are vast. And the rapid loss of tropical forests results in about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – certainly more than the carbon footprint of the 5 million Norwegians in the world.
I was in Norway to learn more about the country’s efforts and to attend an event called the Oslo REDD Exchange, a workshop designed to share experiences from the field. Hans Brattskar, Norway’s Forest and Climate Ambassador, told the group of technical experts, donors, scientists and forest-community leaders that protecting the world’s forests requires courage to act, and to act now.
During a dinner at the Polar Museum, I was struck by the irony of Norway’s history of polar exploration, and now, a century later, their efforts to slow the warming that is melting the ice caps.
They don’t come more courageous than Norway’s Roald Amundsen, an explorer who led the first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole, and the first expedition to make it through the Northwest Passage – the ocean route north of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Before becoming the first to traverse the Passage in 1905, he spent three years fighting the ice that threatened to crush his ship.
Despite Amundsen’s success in navigating the passage (he later disappeared during a rescue effort for a fellow explorer in 1928), the Arctic pack ice remained too thick and threatening and the Northwest Passage was not routinely used by marine shipping during the 20th century. It was not until 2009 that climate change triggered enough shrinkage of the Arctic sea ice to make it navigable.
Today, climate change not only threatens Norway’s records of exploration, but also its way of life. Norwegians have a front-row seat for some of the most dramatic changes already taking place from climate change with the melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers. Researchers predict that as many as 1600 Norwegian glaciers could melt in the next century, leaving only 28.
With a heritage of bold action, Norway has led the charge by the 34-nation Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) in combating tropical deforestation. Hans told the workshop goers that there will always be critics and second guessers of decisive action. But he encouraged the crowd to not be intimidated by the groups waiting to exploit any mistake along the way. If you are too scared to make a mistake, you can’t act – and without action, you cannot make progress.
With the support of Norway and others, The Nature Conservancy is also moving ahead with efforts in key countries to stop deforestation and forest degradation. In Indonesia, we are working in the district of Berau, which is the size of Belize, to better manage its forests and develop forest-friendly enterprises that generate economic and social development in communities. And in Brazil, the Conservancy is working with farmers and ranchers in Mato Grosso and Pará states to encourage more efficient agricultural practices that keep forests standing.
The Nature Conservancy’s forest experts might not encounter sea ice, but we have surely faced our own share of obstacles – from lack of political will to technical challenges for measuring forest carbon to identifying and developing forest-friendly enterprises. But with the intrepid Amundsen in mind, we are focused on navigating the countless obstacles ahead.
Erin Myers Madeira is a forest carbon senior advisor for The Nature Conservancy
Photo by: Flickr user Bosc d’Anjou, (Briksdalsbreen glacier in Norway)Used under a Creative Commons license.
Inset photo by: Flickr user Peter Nijenhuis; (A melting glacier in Norway; some melting is seasonal, but many glaciers have receded in recent decades with warmer temperatures.) Used under a Creative Commons license.
Inset photo 2: © Gilbert Tiepolo (Tropical moist lowland forest in Bahia, Brazil, part of the coastal Atlantic Forest).
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