Who owns the forests?

Saving the Trees

If you’re looking for a place to stash some excess carbon dioxide, forests are your best bet. Trees and plants drink up CO2, believed to be a major contributor to global warming. So the United Nations is trying to hammer out an agreement under which governments would be compensated for managing their countries’ forests to maximize carbon sequestration.

An October article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that this approach is unlikely to be effective because government-owned forests are not well-protected. Authors Ashwini Chhatre, a geographer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Arun Agrawal, a political scientist specializing in environmental policy at the University of Michigan, offer evidence that governments have a habit of licensing destructive logging and that they often fail to prevent resource rustling. In contrast, Chhatre and Agrawal found, forests owned by local communities are managed for the long term and store lots of carbon dioxide.

As Chhatre told New Scientist, “Our findings show that we can increase carbon sequestration simply by transferring ownership of forests from governments to communities.” Chhatre and Agrawal further suggest that locals are better at managing common pastures, coastal fisheries, and water supplies. 

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