Climate change can feel like a huge problem. Too big to contemplate. Too scary to worry about. It’s a global issue, a global responsibility, and a potential global disaster.
And global, top-down solutions aren’t working. We’ve lost half our forest in the last 40 years. China is not committed to peak carbon emissions until 2030, and most of the developed countries aren’t committed to ending fossil fuel use by 2050. That means it’s very unlikely that fossil fuel emissions will fall at all in the next decade, or that they’ll be reduced by the necessary 80 percent by 2050.
And this means a rise of more than two degrees in global temperatures is almost inevitable.
But luckily for the planet, this global problem has a local solution.
A recent paper published in Nature confirmed that protecting and reinstating tropical forests would counteract emissions from fossil fuels for long enough to give the world a chance to recover. It would buy world leaders a vital extra 65 years to replace fossil fuels with low carbon alternatives.
So tropical forests are the answer. And it happens that the most effective way to protect them is also the most simple.
The driving factors for deforestation are many and varied: palm oil, mining, topical hardwood. But the most common reason that trees are felled is poverty. The world’s rainforests are home to 350 million people, most of whom are living below the poverty line. When it comes to a choice between feeding their children and selling their trees, illegal loggers offering cash can be the only option, even if what they’re offering is far below what the trees are worth.
What We’re Doing to Help
Cool Earth was set up nine years ago to give rainforest villages another choice. We only work where the need is greatest, where deforestation is imminent, and we only work with villages that approach us. By giving an elected community association funds to invest in income generation, education, and health, we create villages that are strong enough to withstand offers from loggers. It’s a light touch model, and it’s extremely effective. For about $115, we can protect about around an acre of rainforest, locking in 260 tonnes of carbon. This leaves other carbon offset schemes in the shade, pound for pound. We’ve even been recognized as the most cost-effective charity to support if your aim is to cut down your carbon footprint.
But that’s not the best bit. By working alongside rainforest villages, we’re also improving lives for some of the world’s poorest people. By putting the rainforest back in their hands, we’re empowering communities across the world, whether in the Congo, Papua New Guinea, or Peru.
Our Awajún partnership, in Northern Peru, is a brilliant example. The Awajún live in one of Peru’s highest risk areas, with oil and gold extraction destroying vast swathes of their ancestral lands. They are renowned for their fierce independence, but with their homes under threat, they asked Cool Earth for support.
We’re now working alongside seven villages in the area, and not one tree has been lost. Amongst other things, the community decided to invest in a local women’s jewellery making group called AMARNO.
“We used to get together to cook. We then decided to start making jewellery for sale, so we could support our families and educate our children. There were just ten of us under a little-thatched` roof.” – Balbina Paukai
Balbina and her fellow mothers used Cool Earth funding to form a cooperative. They increased their capacity, invested in computers and IT training, and improved their links to market. They’re now selling their jewellery in Lima and abroad.
The income from this jewellery means that families in our Awajún project are making more money than they’d get from selling their trees. They can use the extra income to make sure their children are educated and their village has the access to healthcare it needs.
Not only that, over the past two years, 92 percent of AMARNO members have considerably higher self-esteem, 85 percent of the women’s hopes for the future of their community have improved a lot, and 97 percent of the women in the cooperative feel empowered.
We think this is the ultimate measure of success. Not only is rainforest kept standing, contributing to the global fight against climate change, but our donors are changing lives at the same time.