Optimal level of deforestation

The last part of the interview with prof. Hofstad from NMBU focuses on hopes for the future or REDD. If you have not read previous parts about degradation of REDD, you can find them here: PART I, and PART II

Are there any hopes for REDD+ future?

    – For instance, Frances Seymour referred to the “narrative of disappointment” surrounding REDD. There has been a gap between the commitments and hopes for huge financing for REDD and the lack of money. Many political leaders have been left waiting for funds to materialize. Not so long time ago, I read that finance of REDD in Tanzania is about to dry up after a period of quite spacious budgets for pilot REDD projects.

I think that establishing an institution like an international market for services as difficult to monitor as reduced emissions, has shown to be immensely more complicated than I anticipated.

Is monitoring so difficult in tropics?

    – When deforestation is slow, changes in forest area are often smaller than the confidence interval of forest area estimates. Landsat and Spot imagery is commonly unable to detect changes in biomass density – a requirement for estimating forest degradation, so better technologies definitely need to be developed. We are getting better optical satellite images, and both Radar and Lidar have been used recently. One question remains – at which scale (or resolution) do we want to monitor. Is one emission target for a whole country sufficient, or do we intend to check on the delivery of emission reductions from individual projects or forest owners?

Looking at developed countries, they based very often their development on deforestation and degradation together with exploitation of other natural resources. One can say that if in, let’s say Europe, deforestation would not be present in the past, Europe would not be so developed as it is now. Do you agree with this statement?

    – Certainly.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote on my blog a post “RE(D)D is BAD”, where I was arguing that one hidden goal behind environmental policy may be to stop the development process in developing countries. I based my arguments on mercantilism and colonialism practices that I think are still present in modern times.

In addition, I wrote a post about impacts of Brexit on forests, where one of the experts highlighted that UK has strong influence on environmental policy, as their government agencies are the biggest in Europe. Expert claimed that without UK, some countries like Poland or other Visegrad countries will push harder for the economic development first and the environmental policy will go on the second place.

Do you think that this can be a hidden and mean factor behind environmental policies, which try to stop development in developing world?

    – No, I do not adhere to such conspiracy theories. Colonialism was a terrible policy, and many have written about neo-colonialism long after developing countries got independence. However, I think the Norwegian initiative to save tropical forests was motivated by self-interest. We saw that climate change was a real problem, and wanted to do something to halt the development. It seemed cheaper to stop deforestation in the South than to stop the use of fossil fuels in the North. We have also noted that other countries did not have the same will or the required money to participate in this initiative on the same scale.

Yaron Brook in his lecture (here link) told his students that if African countries adopted and realized all CO2 plans, that they are encouraged to do, they would be poor forever. He argued that one of the methods to develop is a combustion of fossil fuels that is why we have energy needed for other purposes. Do you agree with him?

     – I have not read his arguments, but as I said earlier, there is an optimal level of deforestation. The cost of preserving forests, in terms of lost development opportunities, may be high. However, countries in the South may be able to skip some of the most environmentally harmful steps taken by developed countries. If all poor countries burn coal in the way we did, or do, in Europe, the globe will become a hot place.

 What kind of steps, in your opinion, developing countries should take in order to not disturb their development, and on other hand be on the same page with developed countries that want to buy carbon credits from them?

    – Mather’s theory of forest development stages may apply. I think we can observe in parts of Asia and Europe (may be in other parts of the world as well) that jobs are generated in urban areas such that poor farmers can leave marginal lands in rural areas. Vegetation then regenerates, carbon is sequestered, and some threatened species are saved. We need to think more about green development in both the North and the South. It will not be similar (maybe the solution in some countries is degrowth), but it must reduce the ecological footprint of the rich at the same time as we reduce the number of poor people.

Thank you very much for your time!

Professor Ole Hofstad
Ole Hofstad

Professor Ole Hofstad was born 19.03.1949 in Trondheim, Norway. In 1973 he finished his Msc. studies in Forest Economics at the Agricultural University of Norway (AUN). The same year he was employed as research assistant at the Department of Forest Economics at AUN. He successfully defended his Dr. scient thesis in Forest Economics at the same department in 1977. The title of his thesis was “Conflicts in multiple-use forestry”.

Subsequently Hofstad spent two years in Morogoro, Tanzania as lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam (later Sokoine University of Agriculture) and one year as lecturer at the Department of Forest Mensuration and Management, AUN. From 1980 he was employed for two years as director of planning for MADEMO (Post-independence state forest enterprise) in Mozambique. In the period 1982- 989 he was lecturer and associate professor (from 1985) at the Department of Forest Mensuration and Management, AUN. He was elected as Head of Department for 1988 and 1989.

After the merger of all forestry departments at AUN in 1990 he was elected as the first Head at the Department of Forest Sciences, AUN. From 1991 to 1993 he was on leave from the department and spent two years as Woodland Management Advisor to Zimbabwe Forestry Commission on contract with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hofstad was appointed as professor at the Department of Forest Sciences in 1993, and was later elected as Head of Department for two three-year periods (1996-1998 and 2000-2002). In 2002-2003 he spent his sabbatical at College of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley. Since 2003 he has been professor at the Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Main photo taken by Arezoo Soltani. : Goats in dry woodland in Tigray, Ethiopia. 

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