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It Pays to Grow Trees

Credit: Aidenvironment/CC BY-SA 2.0

The deforestation of a peat swamp forest for palm oil production in Indonesia. Credit: Aidenvironment/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Victoria Graham

When economic forces threaten irreplaceable ecosystems in developing countries it makes sense to employ economic incentives that place a value on forests.

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Four thousand kilometres from Darwin, a tropical jungle survives nestled precariously between vast urban and agricultural expanse. The Gunung Leuser National Park in Indonesia is the last place where all four critically endangered animals – Sumatran tigers, rhinos, elephants and orang-utans – still exist.

I was fortunate enough to see this jungle in 2016 and witness a majesty that is worth saving. In 2013 the government of Aceh province put forward a development plan that slices through the heart of the supposedly protected Leuser Ecosystem – one of the most irreplaceable ecosystems in the world – which would fragment the forests and may push critically endangered species like tigers and rhinos to extinction. Conservationists responded with fervour, attracting the support of celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio to campaign for its protection.

While this story is shocking, it’s just one example of a much larger problem facing South-East Asia. Every year, 1.5 million hectares of forest are lost, much of it logged, burnt and replaced by agricultural, oil palm and timber estates, as well as infrastructure, in attempts to stimulate regional economic growth.

The protection of these forests is of international interest for social and environmental reasons, yet the value of forests like these remains largely unrecognised. Until this changes, this ignorance...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.