Inquiring Minds - Tropical Deforestation

Flagstaff, AZ – Indigenous people have not been able to slow tropical deforestation in Honduras. NAU Social Scientist Erik Nielsen says a global carbon credit program may be a way to empower communities and reduce greenhouse gases.

Tropical deforestation accounts for some 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the exhaust from all the trucks, planes and cars on the planet.

Along the Honduran Mosquitia Coast, Dr. Erik Neilson, an NAU environmental policy professor, has witnessed the dramatic shift from forest to open land. Satellite images of the lush Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve - an area the size of Yellowstone National Park - reveal an annual loss of three to five percent since the 1990s.

He says, in this land of little law enforcement, outside pressures like encroaching cattle ranchers are moving in. They are acquiring the land, burning the forest and displacing indigenous people.

Nielsen is seeking to design policies that may protect the Mosquito people and the Platano Reserve, and mitigate climate change.

"Our research is looking at what are the drivers of deforestation," he explains, "what kinds of mechanisms from the grassroots up could help to strengthen the indigenous management over these forests and in fact get this global benefit of reducing greenhouse emissions."

Through a global carbon credit program, Nielsen says developing countries could offset their greenhouse gas impact by investing in the rain forest. Essentially they would be funding local communities to manage and conserve it.