Orphaned Baby Orangutans Signal Need for Change in Borneo

June 30, 2009 05:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The plight of endangered orangutans in Borneo highlights the controversy surrounding the United Nations' REDD program, which aims to reduce carbon emissions caused by deforestation.

In the Forests of Borneo, Much Is at Risk

As a result of Borneo's burgeoning palm oil industry and rampant deforestation, orphaned orangutans have been forced into extended stays in captivity, Rhett Butler reveals in Yale Environment 360.

Facing starvation due to a lack of forest, orangutans were forced to "venture into newly established palm oil plantations," where they are considered pests. According to Butler, plantation managers began paying migrant workers to kill the animals. The threat to orangutans in captivity now is that "there is not enough habitat where they can be returned," Butler writes.

But are the practices of rehabilitating species and reintroducing them to their habitat merely "treating the symptom rather than the cause" of the problem, as Dave Dellatore, a primatologist for the Sumatran Orangutan Society/Orangutan Information Center, suggests?

A U.N. program called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) attempts to tackle the whole problem: the larger issue of deforestation, and its impacts on the environment, developing economies and endangered species. According to Butler, REDD "can make local populations partners, rather than enemies, of conservation." It does so by "paying local communities and companies to preserve forests rather than clearing them."
REDD could be in use by 2013. But first, according to David Fogarty in an article for Reuters, the deforestation industry and socioeconomic characteristics of local communities must be assessed. Deforestation is driven by a range of factors, including subsistence farming and logging; alternatives must be found, such as "fish farming, growing alternative cash crops, such as fruit, as well as sustainable forestry" according to Fogarty.

Opinion & Analysis: Is forest preservation fair to developing economies?

In The New York Times blog Green Inc., James Kanter wrote last December that REDD had "triggered a furious response from groups that say that the developing world has a right to boost its economic development through forestry." These groups, including World Growth, assert that improved forest management, rather than forest preservation, could be a better method of reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, even supporters of REDD admit that monitoring deforestation in "unregulated areas" could be difficult.

This month, however, Kanter wrote in The New York Times' Dot Earth blog about a study by the journal Conservation Letters that cast REDD in a more positive light. The study suggests that forest preservation could be an economical option for "governments and forest dwellers," and might also aid habitat preservation efforts, which could have implications for endangered animals such as elephants and orangutans.

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Background: REDD and surrounding controversy

There are critics of REDD who call the program "unworkable and dangerous," according to an article by Aubrey Belford published by Agence France-Presse. Some environmentalists, including those at Greenpeace, contend that carbon credits from REDD "could flood global markets." Such a scenario would cause the price of carbon to dip sharply, making it less expensive for polluters to avoid truly cutting their carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, others suggest that forest dwellers would be unlikely "to take advantage of the complex world of carbon markets and could be left worse off." According to AFP, the Friends of the Earth organization published a report recently that said, "The simple fact that forests are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity means that they are more likely to be wrested away from local people."

Key findings, conclusions and recommendations stemming from a Greenpeace report, which concluded that REDD's measures to protect forests "would devalue the price of carbon as much as 75%, effectively neutering efforts to tackle global warming," are available on the Greenpeace Web site.

Reference: REDD and deforestation in Borneo

The official UN-REDD Web site details the program and provides news alerts. Videos of interviews with experts in environmental policy, conservation and community development are also available.

According to WWF, "Logging, land-clearing and conversion activities are considered to be the greatest threats to the Heart of Borneo." WWF details the history of deforestation and illegal logging in Borneo, and the impacts on animals and the country's water supply.

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