Conservation, Climate Change, and Communities

One of the most bitter ironies of climate change is that, while its effects are universal, the suffering it brings disproportionately affects the poor. Soy plantations in Brazil thrive amidst a drought that devastated poor farmers. New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, home to the city's poorest residents, was among the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Globally, the incidence of diarrheal diseases, which already kills over 1.8 million people annually, is expected to rise as climate-related flooding affects communities with poor sanitation. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the effects of global warming will be felt most acutely in Africa, where, by 2020, between 70 million and 250 million people will face water shortages and reduced agricultural yields of up to 50%.

Yet climate change also underscores a fundamental truth: that we are all in it together. Solving the climate crisis thus demands that all of us -- environmentalists, policymakers, business leaders and philanthropists -- must simultaneously address the social and economic needs of those most affected by climate change. Consider, for instance, deforestation and forest degradation, which together account for up to 25% of global carbon emissions. When Brazilian rain forests are chopped down to make way for sugar plantations, or when timber companies clear cut in Indonesia, it is indigenous people and the rural poor who are the most directly affected. Likewise, many of the world's endangered ecological zones exist in countries where people lack the resources -- or the economic alternatives -- for preservation and restoration. In short, if the world is to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our day, we will have to figure out how to do it in partnership and in solidarity with the poorest and most marginalized among us.

This issue of Global Giving Matters looks at how three members of the Global Philanthropists Circle are supporting conservation, biodiversity, and carbon reduction while also addressing the needs of poor communities in the developing world. Avoided Deforestation Partners, founded by Jeff Horowitz, is building market-driven solutions for saving tropical rainforests and ecosystems with communities and indigenous people at the center. Daniel Feffer, in partnership with his family's paper company Suzano, is restoring Parque das Neblinas, a 2,800-hectare preserve in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. Finally, Enki Tan, through his work on the board of Conservation International (CI), is supporting a pair of innovative preservation initiatives in Indonesia.

The REDD Advocate

At first glance, the work of Avoided Deforestation Partners (, a carbon-trading think tank founded by Jeff Horowitz, seems a long way from the day-to-day realities of poor communities in the developing world. Horowitz, who set aside his high-powered position as a partner in San Francisco's KMD Architects to run his nonprofit, has become a leading advocate of policies aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation -- or "REDD" as it's commonly known. Horowitz now spends much of his time trotting around the globe, talking up REDD to policymakers and corporate leaders.

This May, Horowitz and his team will host a day of events in Washington, DC, featuring Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, Founder and President of The Green Belt Movement; James Rogers, Chairman, CEO, and President of Duke Energy Corporation; and the presidents of The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Environmental Defense, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The goal is nothing less than persuading legislators to include REDD provisions in the cap-and-trade bill now making its way through the US Congress. Most of the room will be filled with congressional staffers, and Horowitz sees it as the perfect opportunity to include provisions for international carbon offsets in the bill. "Legislators need to understand the strong connection between forest protection and the war on climate change," Horowitz says. "On a broader scale, it's about the private sector, government, and NGOs working towards sustainability on the ground."

Like any good advocate, Horowitz makes a compelling case for his cause: the importance of using international carbon markets to conserve forests, fight climate change, and improve the lives of the world's poor. First, the case for forest preservation. Thirteen million hectares of forest disappear every year, an area the size of New York State. Deforestation is the second largest source of carbon emissions into the atmosphere -- even greater than the entire global transportation sector.

"The real goal here is to keep temperature increases to two degrees Celsius by 2030 -- and to keep the cost of carbon under $80 per ton," Horowitz says. "If we're going to do that, 25% of the offsets will have to come from forest preservation, primarily in the developing world. If we don't save the world's forests, we can't save the planet."

Next, markets and carbon policy. Most economists agree that the best way to reduce carbon is to make polluters pay for it. But markets require scarcity -- which is why "cap-and-trade" regimes are widely viewed as the best hope. The Kyoto Protocol, for instance, set international caps on carbon emissions, creating a multi-billion dollar market for trading carbon credits, which has triggered billions of dollars of investments in developing countries. The problem, however, is that international agreement structures don't give carbon credits for conservation of threatened areas. As Horowitz argued in a recent article, "Including deforestation in the emissions-trading market will reduce the overall costs of cutting emissions globally, making it a win-win situation for the economy and the world's forests."

Finally, community. Horowitz readily admits that many of the communities with the most intimate day-to-day relationships with forests are also the most skeptical of carbon trading schemes. "There are people in local communities who are cautious about carbon offsets and carbon trading because they see it as a potential opportunity for others to extract financial gains from their forests. The fear is that they will be left out."

If coordinated properly, the benefits of carbon trading and avoided deforestation should accrue to local communities. And those benefits, he continues, have to be understood from the perspective of what locals deem to be in their long-term interests. "We are trying to advance an inclusive policy that allows local people to articulate their community and livelihood needs. Simply offering cash, in the form of trust funds, is not always the answer."

This, he insists, is precisely why communities need to be at the center of any carbon trading model. "We can put in place a top-down approach, where we get everyone from the presidents of countries, to CEOs, to the world's leading economists, and the top NGOs to talk about conservation -- but at the end of the day, these forests must be protected by the people on the ground. Understanding and respecting the needs of indigenous peoples will ultimately benefit both local communities and the future health of planet's climate."

The Forest Restorer

Five hundred years ago, pristine forest land stretched for one million square kilometers along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Today, the Atlantic Forest occupies just 7% of the land it once did -- and with its destruction some of Brazil's natural patrimony is slipping into oblivion. Even so, the remaining forest has one of the world's highest rates of biodiversity -- one-third of the species are found nowhere else. Yet the Atlantic Forest is also one of the world's five most threatened environments.

Nine years ago, Suzano Papel e Celulose, one of Latin America's biggest paper companies, launched an effort to preserve and restore a small portion of the Atlantic Forest. The company was celebrating its 75th anniversary, and was looking for a way to give back to the community. Under the stewardship of Daniel Feffer, Suzano's vice president, the company established Parque das Neblinas, a 2,800 hectare biological preserve on an area formerly used for coal mining and eucalyptus farming. "When we first began this project, the landscape was badly scarred," Feffer recalls. "You can still see the coal ovens here."

Under the auspices of the Instituto Ecofuturo (, a conservation organization sponsored by Suzano and chaired by Feffer, the Atlantic Forest has made a steady rebound. The park welcomes 3,000 visitors each year, drawn to the ecological heritage and adventure activities like rafting and hiking. The park currently has 20 different research projects with regional universities. To date, surveys have documented 226 species of birds, 319 species of trees (including 11 threatened species), and 144 species of ants, among others. "Year after year, the natural rainforests are making a comeback, regaining some of their overwhelming richness and vegetation," Feffer says.

None of this, Feffer insists, could have been done without the support of the local community. Drawing on Agenda 21, a UN framework for sustainable forest management, Suzano established a partnership with the residents of Bertioga, a nearby town of 10,000. Through the partnership, Suzano funded a library, which is stocked with 2,000 books. Likewise, the company also supports courses in kitchen hygiene and food preparation for the cooperative that supplies all the food to the park. "Whenever we can, we bring in the local residents so they, too, benefit from the value of the park," Feffer says.

One of Feffer's favorite stories revolves around a former orchid thief named Emerson -- like many Brazilians he is known affectionately by a single name -- who is now one of the park's top rangers. "Emerson he used to steal orchids and sell them in the city as a way to live, a way of surviving," Feffer says. "Now, he is the official guide for the park. He has official documents as an employee. Instead of using his knowledge of orchids to steal and destroy, he uses it to educate and preserve." Emerson is studying biology in the university, an academic pedigree that will benefit him and the park. After all, Feffer says, "He knows better than anyone where the animals are."

The Conservationist Tire Salesman

As Chairman of the GITI Tire, one of Asia's leading tire manufacturers, Enki Tan jokingly refers to himself as a tire salesman, but his passion is environmental conservation. An inveterate explorer and avid scuba diver, Tan has a deep personal commitment to environmental conservation, so when he was tapped to join the board of Conservation International in 2004, he leapt at the chance. "I find CI's approach to be very innovative and very appropriate for today's environment," he said. CI's dedication to sound science appealed to his empirical business sensibilities, and the organization's emphasis on human welfare and partnership appealed to his pragmatic side. "These issues are very complex and involve multiple parties. And the human welfare aspect always needs to be taken care of. Incentive structures need to be spelled out, otherwise the conservation will not be sustainable."

Tan chairs Conservation International's Asia Program, and GITI Tire has emerged as a key partner for the organization's efforts in the region. Last December, GITI donated $1 million for CI projects in northern Sumatra (Indonesia) and the mountains of Southwest China. Half of the company's donation went to support CI's China affiliate, the Shanshui Center for Nature and Society, in replanting 60 hectares of native forest, conserving wetlands and watersheds, and supporting local communities. But it is CI's work in Indonesia where GITI -- and Tan -- have had the biggest impact.

Seven years ago, when scientists surveyed the waters surrounding the Raja Ampat Islands, they found one of the world's most breathtaking and diverse marine ecosystems. According to National Geographic Magazine, Raja Ampat features 600 species of coral and 1,300 fish species in this remote cluster of islands at the far eastern tip of the Indonesia archipelago. While largely intact at the time of the survey, Raja Ampat was under threat. Commercial fishing had decimated the shark population, and dynamite fishing, a technique favored by many local subsistence fishermen, had damaged the reefs. Last year, the Indonesian government, in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, designated 183,000 square kilometers as the Bird's Head Seascape. Last year, they created seven new marine protected areas in Raja Ampat in areas totaling 9,100 square kilometers.

In September, Tan and his wife, Cherie Nursalim, organized The Blue Auction, a black-tie charity auction to benefit CI's marine conservation work. Hosted by Prince Albert II at Monaco's Oceanographic Museum, Christie's auctioned off naming rights to ten new marine life species recently discovered off the coasts of the Bird's Head Seascape. The auction raised $2.5 million, including GITI's $480,000 bid.

Much of that money will flow directly to community-based conservation efforts. "CI is working closely with local communities, which aren't able to protect the marine areas because of lack of knowledge and resources." Take cyanide fishing, for instance. Throughout Southeast Asia, cyanide has traditionally been used to catch 80% of the fish for the $330 million global trade in tropical aquarium fish. Divers pour cyanide compound on the reef, temporarily stunning the fish but killing smaller fish and shellfish, eggs and larvae, and poisoning the reef. "Local people are critical to the process," Tan says. "Without the buy-in of the people, it's impossible to form and maintain these preserves. They have to have the knowledge and incentives to protect habitats, and they need sound alternatives to environmentally destructive economic activities."

Tan's other Indonesian project is in the North Sumatra province of Batan Toru, home to one of the largest remaining pockets of Sumatran orangutans. According to Conservation International, just 7,500 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Half of the population disappeared during intense logging in the 1990s and the remainder lives in just a dozen patches of forest on the island of Sumatra. This decline is potentially catastrophic from an ecological perspective. Orangutans are a "keystone" species for conservation, scattering fruit seeds through their droppings as they move throughout their habitats. If orangutans disappear, other plants and animals within that ecosystem could disappear as well.

Beginning in 2005, Conservation International has been working with partners, including GITI Tire, to protect the 400 orangutans living in the forests of West Batang Toru. Through its local partners, Conservation International has reached out to 30,000 residents living in and around the orangutans' habitat. Recently, local administrators have called for creation of a national park to protect the threatened primates.

Equally important, Conservation International and GITI Tire have created a partnership that gives local residents opportunities to earn money through rubber production instead of logging and poaching. Last December, GITI announced that it was donating $500,000 to support rubber production in a buffer zone surrounding the orangutans' habitat. "We believe that supporting the livelihoods of people living in the buffer zone will prevent forest destruction in the Batang Toru protected area," Tan said. Working closely with roughly 30 communities, local and regional government agencies, and Indonesia's Village Development Agency, the partnership calls for a negotiated land-use agreement and promoting sustainable alternatives.

In both Indonesia projects, Tan credits Conservation International's bridge-building model of conservation with much of the success. CI's scientific reputation may be second to none, he notes, but when it comes to executing on the ground, local partners always lead. "We always use Conservation International country teams," Tan says. "There's not a whole group of ex-pats who are out there trying to manage projects. They would not have the local knowledge and know how. We always use local scientists who are credible in their field to mange projects." Finally, he adds, CI uses local NGOs to build partnerships on the ground. "We engage local NGOs to operate locally or we engage local and regional governments. Lastly, we engage the local community. If they have a good understanding and buy in and local communities reap the benefits, it's more likely the project will succeed."