Twice the size of Wales: ambitious plans for rainforest protection

Environmental charity Size of Wales intends to double the area of tropical rainforest it helps protect as its contribution to tackling climate change. Here, the charity's Peter Davies explains the role of business in tackling deforestation.

It was 2010, and the news was dire: “An area of rainforest the size of Wales has been cut down.”

Wherever you turned, Wales seemed to be the go-to measurement for all sorts of negative things, from deforestation to icebergs and meteorites. Clearly, something had to be done. Instead of being the measure of the problem, we wanted to become part of the solution. And so we decided to set up our charity, the appropriately named Size of Wales, to encourage people to take positive action and help protect an area of rainforest equivalent to the size of this small nation – around two million hectares.

Tropical forests are undervalued, but they are actually worth a lot more if they are left standing rather than cut down for short-term gains. They occupy just 7% of the Earth’s surface, but they absorb nearly a fifth of the world’s man-made CO2 emissions every year, according to the IPCC.

Now if this fact didn’t surprise you, maybe another one will: the destruction and degradation of tropical forests releases the same amount of CO2 emissions as the entire world’s transportation – that means cars, trains, planes and ships. Put it to scale and you realise that keeping the world’s forests standing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle climate change.

But there are other good reasons to fight deforestation. Rainforests are part of the interconnected global environment, providing so-called ecosystem services: regulating weather conditions and generating rainfall, storing fresh water, absorbing pollutants from the atmosphere, maintaining biodiversity, controlling soil erosion and providing livelihoods for forest communities.

And it is exactly these forest communities across Africa and South America that Size of Wales works with. Local people rely upon their forests and are by far the most motivated and knowledgeable people to conserve them. That’s why working closely with them is at the heart of our forest projects. We help to fund projects that support these communities, who depend on the forest for their livelihood, to help them improve living conditions as well as protecting and managing forests.

Take for example our cooperation with the RSPB in the Gola Rainforest National Park Sierra Leone, which is working with 120 forest edge communities to improve agricultural techniques and providing 700 children with scholarships for secondary education. In the Republic of Congo we are helping to protect the UNESCO recognised Conkouati-Douli National Park, combating illegal logging through education and teaching skills for greater revenue earning through fishery, animal husbandry and agro-forestry projects. In Madagascar, our contribution has enabled the local authorities and communities to address key issues such as illegal gold mining and enabled local communities to develop and implement their own forest management plans.

These projects work to reduce the effects of poverty while also encouraging the protection and even reforestation of tropical forests. From a climate change and poverty reduction perspective, the safeguarding of forests in the tropics is vital. According to the IPCC, developing countries are facing climate change now. Drought-prone areas are becoming drier and wet tropical regions wetter, hurting crop production and disrupting incomes. Protecting the forests has a direct impact on people’s livelihoods.

But we aren’t just protecting forests, we’re also creating new ones through reforestation and tree planting projects. Since April 2013, over a million trees have already been planted with our support. A prime example is Uganda’s Mount Elgon region, which has been ravaged by deforestation and agricultural expansion, leading to dangerous landslides. We are supporting the work of Mbale CAP to plant 10 million trees in the coming years, which will help to improve climate change resilience. This project is also helping coffee co-operatives to grow shade trees to protect coffee crops, supporting over 30 villages to establish tree nurseries, and working with over 1,600 families.

In Mali we have supported a Tree Aid project, which has so far planted 94,743 trees across 10 nurseries, with a seedling survival rate of 65%. And in Addis Ababa the Trees for Cities programme has planted 8,700 fruit trees, involving 1,200 people from local communities.

One direct beneficiary of the Trees for Cities programme is Banchi Amlak Guday, who told us why this project is so important: “With a large family to feed I did not have spare money to buy any trees. Now we have the trees they require no other expenses. I can water the plants with the water we used to wash our face and arms. I do not need to buy fertilisers. I can prepare compost from the waste we generate daily. Most importantly, I can earn a good amount of money from the sale of the fruit to help pay for my children’s schooling.”

Since its foundation Size of Wales has come a long way. Our hope for all parts of Wales to contribute towards this mammoth effort came true: businesses, employees, schools, the general public and even government all had their part to play. The most surprising thing was how support stretched further; we had support from all over the UK and even internationally. We were thrilled when we successfully reached our initial £2m target which enabled us to help protect an area of rainforest the size of Wales.

Over the next five years we are planning to go further still. We wanted to show what one small nation could do; now we want more. That’s why our next step will be to double our impact and help to protect an area of tropical rainforest ‘twice the size of Wales’. And by 2020 we hope to expand our contribution to the global effort to protect the world’s remaining rainforests from extinction – not by locking them up but by enabling them to be used in a sustainable way by the communities that have depended on them for generations.

We want to improve our interaction with scientific institutions. We want to upgrade our online presence to provide more innovative ways to access and share information and shape what we provide in a more defined way. Last but not least, we want to improve our educational outreach by enhancing our schools programme, including creating an interactive schools resource.

We are now looking for like-minded organisations to join us in our next ambitious target. Having a charity partner can bring genuine, long-term benefits, and working in partnership with Size of Wales provides an opportunity to be associated with a distinctive response to the problem of tropical deforestation and climate change. And thanks to our brilliant and generous match fund, all our donations continue to be doubled, at no extra cost to the donor.

Wales may have been the first country in the world to mobilise this pioneering national response to the problem of tropical deforestation and climate change, but we don’t want to be the last. By keeping the rainforests alive we will also be helping to keep our planet alive. And by educating future generations, we can help make that national commitment sustainable. We’ll be taking this message to COP21 in Paris in December.

Peter Davies is chair of the board of trustees at Size of Wales.

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