By Theil, Stefan
Newsweek , Vol. 155, No. 02
Byline: Stefan Theil
The Copenhagen climate talks may have been a flop, but there was one piece of good news: a plan for rich states to pay the developing world to stop destroying tropical forests. That's key because deforestation represents about 15 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions--more than all the world's cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined. While countries couldn't agree on binding targets, it was the first time they had made halting deforestation central to the fight against climate change.
The agreement followed new evidence showing that deforestation can actually be slowed and, in some cases, reversed--which runs counter to longstanding predictions that nothing could stop the process and that eradication of the world's tropical forests was all but inevitable. In 2009 Brazil, long the world's worst offender, saw its pace of jungle-clearing plummet to a third of its historical rate. That's due in part to the recession, as falling commodity prices made clear-cutting for timber or soybean farms less profitable. But Brazil has also stepped up protection efforts, and is reaping the benefits of socioeconomic change and rising living standards, which have led to a decline in subsistence farming. As the bulk of destruction shifts to big agro, not millions of individual farmers, it has become easier for governments and NGOs to target perpetrators--just what Brazil has done. After they became the focus of a global protest campaign last year, Nike and Wal-Mart stopped sourcing their leather from Amazon cattle farmers. …