This question came in a forum on REDD, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, the somewhat controversial mechanism to tackle global warming. The idea is that because greenhouse gas emissions from clearing of land for agriculture makes up around a fifth of anthropogenic emissions, it makes sense to reduce clearing especially in tropical forests that are high on carbon and overall environmental value.
One typical pattern is that forests are first logged for commercial timber. This opens up the forest, makes access and further clearing easier. People move in to grow cash and subsistence crops.
REDD projects aim to substitute the financial returns from clearing with the sale of carbon credits that come about from the avoided emissions when forests are protected. In short local people receive payments for keeping their trees and their forest intact.
When it works there are less anthropogenic emissions, forests are protected, funds become available to help people create local economic development. Neat idea.
Since there are a few REDD projects that seem to be working pretty well in Africa, the question in the forum was about extending the concept to address wildlife poaching as well?
A successful REDD project would also protect wildlife because the financial incentive is to retain the integrity of the forest. Local communities are paid to be custodians of the resource.
A collective will would be enough to significantly reduce poaching so long as three key things happen:
local engagement is real
sufficient financial returns from the sale of carbon credits go to the local communities and
there is some long-term certainty in those financial returns
These are the key success criteria for any REDD project and, if met, then local protection of all the natural resources should follow. At least this is my experience talking to landholders in rainforests of Asia.
People everywhere prefer to live where the environment is healthy, the air is clean, the trees are green, and the wildlife free to roam. Only we need to live. Our priority is for a good life for ourselves and our families that is free from strain, risk and uncertainty. Meet this priority and any amount of environmental protection is possible.
What we have to remember is that throughout human history the forests have been cleared to meet these basic needs. So we are asking a lot to forego the route to development taken just about everywhere.
There has to be enough money in the system to meet the needs over the long haul.
The real challenge is that financial returns on REDD projects are neither certain nor comparable with the usual alternatives. Exactly why is another, long story. But I am sure you can guess the message. If we want to save trees or wildlife we have to pay a reasonable market price.