Oil-rich Norway is taking a big step in saving tropical rainforests that are crucial to absorbing the world's carbon emissions. The Scandinavian country has become the first in the world to pledge not to use products that contribute to deforestation.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway recently announced the commitment after the Norwegian parliament adopted a measure to "impose requirements to ensure that public procurements do not contribute to deforestation of the rainforest." The government is now drafting rules to follow through.
"This is an important victory in the fight to protect the rainforest," said the Foundation's head of policy, Nils Hermann Ranum, in a statement. "Other countries should follow Norway's leadership, and adopt similar zero deforestation commitments."
With a population of only a little more than 5 million, Norway's move won't significantly slow the clearing of forests around the world — in 1990 they made up 31.6 percent of the word's land areas, and in 2015 that was down to 30.6 percent, according to the United Nations — but the country's move is nonetheless a big deal, said Richard Donovan, senior vice president of forestry at the Rainforest Alliance
"That market compared to the US and the EU in general is a relatively small market, but it's still a significant market," Donovan told VICE News. "They are perceived as leaders and they are seen as — pardon the pun — the cutting edge on this stuff."
The measure applies only to the Norwegian government. But the public sector accounts for around half of the Norwegian economy, according to Trading Economics, a global research firm.
Donovan said the government's move would surely affect the private sector. "I don't think they would have done this unless they first had discussions with those players who were bringing these products into the Norwegian market," he said.
Many Norwegian private companies have indeed taken steps to preserve trees in Africa, the Amazon basin, Indonesia and elsewhere. Norwegian food producers used 15,000 tons of palm oil in 2011. A year later, after a public campaign against palm oil, they cut their use to 9,600 tons, the Foundation said.
The palm oil, beef, soy and wood industries contributed to around 40 percent of the deforestation in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, according to a study last year by Focali, a network of Swedish universities. The absence of those forests contribute to climate change because their trees aren't sucking up carbon emissions.
Norway is spending almost $3.7 billion a year on efforts in Brazil, Liberia and other countries to curb deforestation. The idea is that Norway will fund efforts to help farmers produce more on the land they have already cleared rather than cutting down more trees to plant more crops or grass for cows as well as pay for government efforts to establish preserves.
Tropical deforestation accounts for around 11 percent of global greenhouse emissions, according to Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment.
"The drivers of deforestation are many and vary among countries and regions but there is one common denominator: it is currently more profitable, at least in the short term, to convert a forest to other uses than to leave it as a natural ecosystem," a ministry statement said. "At the same time, we are becoming increasingly aware of the enormous value of natural ecosystems for our economy and welfare. Still, deforestation continues. We are facing a gigantic market failure."
Norway undertook its "zero deforestation" policies after the UN Climate Summit in New York in 2014, when Oslo issued a statement with Germany and the UK to remove products that result from to deforestation. The UK and Germany have yet to make similar pledges. Norway's move could put pressure on London and Berlin to do so.
"The gauntlet has been laid down," he said.
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