Bill Laurance tom lovejoy
William Laurance

Bill Laurance


Bill Laurance, a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, is leading the new initiative to conserve our planet' s tropical forests through carbon trading and emissions reductions.

The Benefits of Carbon Trading

Aside from its obvious advantages for the atmosphere and forests, using carbon trading to slow deforestation could potentially provide substantial economic benefits for developing nations. Each hectare of old-growth tropical rainforest typically contains 120–400 tons of carbon in its above-ground vegetation and much more if plant roots and carbon in the soil are considered. Most of the above-ground carbon, and some of that below-ground, is released to the atmosphere if the forests are cleared.


At the current market value for carbon, a hectare of rainforest, if left intact, could be worth anywhere from $400 to $8000 or more. At present, economic markets provide few if any incentives to slow deforestation. As a result, the opportunity costs of preserving tropical forest are largely born by developing countries, despite the fact that doing so provides a major global benefit.

Many land uses in the tropics, such as swidden farming, small-scale cattle ranching, and low-volume timber extraction, are only marginally profitable, permitting individuals to eke out a living, but little more. Moreover, in tropical frontier areas in Brazil, colonists are required to “improve” (i.e., deforest) the land in order to make viable claims for land title.

An effective scheme to reward developing nations for conserving forests, especially if it ensures that a sizeable fraction of the benefits reach rural landowners, could radically alter the flawed economic logic and perverse incentives that are driving rapid forest destruction.

"A New Initiative to Use Carbon Trading for Tropical Forest Conservation" - Bill Laurance

William Laurance

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute