A new way of valuing the Amazon rainforest is urgently needed to halt deforestation and maintain critical ecosystem services, argues Andrew Mitchell head of the Global Canopy Programme.
The International Union of Forest Research Organisations reports that global warming may condemn forests to become "fire-strewn savannahs" over the next century, regardless of our conservation actions. But that is no excuse for inaction — researchers have indicated that halting deforestation may increase the Amazon's resilience to climate change.
And saving the Amazon could also be critical to preserving food and energy security in the region. Evapotranspiration here generates billions of tonnes of water each day, some of which is thought to be carried south by atmospheric jet streams. If so, this water is helping to sustain a trillion dollar agricultural industry, and is feeding the hydropower and biofuel industries, says Mitchell.
He argues that considering the Amazon as a locally owned 'eco-utility' — where beneficiaries pay taxes to maintain its services — could help make it worth more standing up than cut down. Scientists, economists and community development specialists discussing the idea of an eco-utility approach two weeks ago remain cautious because they disagree over the likely impacts of reducing the Amazon.
But policymakers should still take action. The Amazon belongs to just a few nations, but how it fares affects us all. Paying a premium to prevent its destruction could be the world's best insurance policy, concludes Mitchell.