The rough dirt road winds up and down the jungle-covered
foothills of western Belize, passing Maya peasant families on foot
or bearded Amish farmers in their horse-drawn buggies. It passes
through banana plantations and scrubby pastures carved from the
ever-shrinking tropical forests.
The road eventually leads into a tidy compound staffed by a
couple dozen Swiss, Germans, and Austrians. Locals come to the Maya
Ranch Reserve for the homemade ice cream. But the staff of this
remote research station is hoping to provide a great deal more for
the people of Belize and, perhaps, the rest of the world: provide
oxygen, store carbon.
This project is funded by several German companies. And as
concern over climate change heats up, electrical utilities and
other polluters are investing in tropical forests. By protecting
existing forests or growing new ones, companies hope to use the
trees for pollution credits if a proposed international carbon
trading scheme gets under way later this decade.
In the US, Dynegy Inc., a leading energy company, recently
completed planting 6.3 million trees in five states. The US is
currently lobbying the United Nations that countries receive
environmental credits for replenishing forests.
"We can promote biodiversity and protect against climate change
at the same time," says Thomas Qubeck, vice president of the Janus
Foundation, the Bern, Switzerland, based nonprofit that runs the
Conservationists, who have fought a losing battle to protect the
world's rain forests, hope the forests will be saved for their
trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, store the carbon as new plant
material, and emit oxygen.
"We've struggled for years to find a value of living forests
that's greater than the value of clearing them for lumber or slash-
and-burn agriculture," says Tia Nelson of The Nature Conservancy,
the Arlington, Va.,-based land trust that's brokered several large
forest-protection projects in Latin America. "Suddenly investors
and decisionmakers are recognizing the value forests play in
The Conservancy brokered the largest project of its type, the
protection of 1.5 million acres of Bolivian forests as a carbon
sink. Three electrical utilities - BP Amoco, American Electric
Power, and PacifiCorp - invested $9.6 million to buy and retire the
logging rights to the land, which was then turned over to the
government of Bolivia, which incorporated it into the Noel Kempff
Mercado National Park. …