I think I must have first visited a tropical rainforest over 40 years ago in Papua New Guinea and I shall never forget the thick green forest canopies that stretched into the horizon, trees the height of cathedrals and an astonishing variety of some of the most remarkable plants, animals, birds and insects on Earth. It is a remarkable fact that these ancient forests, which circle the equator in a giant green belt, are home to around half the animals and plants in the world, many of the plants having known – or as yet unknown – medicinal properties that are, or could be, of benefit to Mankind.
But they hold another treasure which for us is of immense value. They are our very life-support system. Why? Because they absorb much of the carbon that our cars, planes and factories pump into the air every year. They actually control the planet’s climate, and create much of the rainfall that helps farmers across the world produce our food.. So, even though these tropical forests are thousands of miles away from us, we depend on them totally for our oxygen, our water and our food – and thus our lives.
And yet, despite this, the rainforests are being cut down at a rate of 15million acres a year. That is an area the size of 15 football pitches being destroyed every single minute! But the story gets worse. When the rainforests are cleared, the trees are usually burned, releasing into the atmosphere massive amounts of the carbon gases that are causing our climate to change. So when they go we lose twice over.
But why is this happening? The answer is disturbingly simple. At the moment the trees in the rainforests are worth more dead than alive. They are chopped down either for timber or so that crops or cattle can be grown in their place. And most of the demand is coming from those of us living in the developed world who consume vast quantities of palm oil, beef and soya.
To save these forests, we need people in the rainforest nations to be able to make money from keeping these trees standing. And the best way we can do that is to value the forests for the services they provide to us and then pay for them. After all, we all understand the need to pay for water, gas and electricity. Now we have reached the critical point where we have to do the same for the life-giving services of these forests.
We need to do something about this and urgently; it is why I set up my Rainforests Project a year ago. At the end of the day, the answer is really very simple, although incredibly complicated to put in place. We are trying to find a way for the polluting, industrialised nations of the world – which caused climate change in the first place - to pay the rainforest countries for these eco-services. If we can do it, then the prize is huge. Not only can we can stop the terrifying rate of deforestation and buy ourselves some time so that new technologies on which so much hope is being pinned can be developed, we can also at the same time make a big difference to the lives of some 1.4billion of the poorest people on Earth who live in and around the rainforest.
Too often, people think there is nothing they can do about global warming. But there is. Stopping deforestation could make the whole difference, and would enable us to store carbon naturally – a much easier and cheaper option than relying entirely on as yet unproven and expensive technologies.
If you want to learn more about what we are doing, then you can visit my Rainforests Project website at www.princesrainforestsproject.org and add your name.
Rainforests are utterly crucial for our future survival – but they are in severe danger. Please join me in trying to save them – for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
Click here to visit The Prince's Rainforest Project website.