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Home » Editorial » Why Preserving Honduras’ Rainforest Will Prevent A Brain Drain

Why Preserving Honduras’ Rainforest Will Prevent A Brain Drain

Ken Silverstein Senior Contributor

About 500 people a day are leaving Honduras for greener pastures. It’s a byproduct of 13 years of dictatorship that neglected the needs of the people. But that could change now that a new democratically-elected government is in place, which has elevated climate change and forest protection as a national priority. The aim is to create fresh federal revenues by issuing carbon credits to stem migration flow.

Previously, small communities benefited from proprietary carbon credit sales, like building new schools or medical clinics. The deals, negotiated between cooperative landowners and carbon brokers, left out the federal government. The current leadership, however, is organizing an effort to issue those credits, distribute the monies to broad swaths of people, and protect trees. Indeed, it is allocating $33 million to rainforest protection.

“Sovereign carbon credits — issued nationally — can stop economic migration,” says Lucky Medina, the 33-year-old minister of energy, natural resources, and environment for Honduras. “They can create green jobs. These credits are to keep Hondurans in Honduras.” We spoke during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Honduras has a population of 10 million, and 56% is rainforest. The poverty rate is 74%, primarily due to a despotic government that gave nominal support for agriculture and forestry and drove out foreign investment. Before the coup in 2009, there was 0.5% deforestation. During the dictatorship between 2009 and 2021, it was 7%. Now that a democratically-elected government is in place, the deforestation rate has dropped to 1.5%.

The current president is Xiomara Castro. She is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who led the country between 2006-2009 before being deposed. The recent wave of migration results from financial despair and political persecution. Drug lords are also a threat, who cut down trees to farm the land — a way to launder ill-gotten money. Life became unbearable. The world has witnessed the “nameless and faceless” trying to enter the United States for a better life.

They don’t want to leave their families and homes — the only lives they have ever known. And many of the migrants must dodge kidnappers and attackers along the way. If they can get to the United States, they will be detained and potentially returned to their home countries. If they can stay, the migrants get the jobs no one wants.

“People lose hope and start to migrate,” says Minister Medina. “The rainforests are our priority. Fifty percent of our people live in or around the forests. We can generate jobs by preserving the rainforests, and we have 10% of our army protecting the rainforests from narco-traffickers. We can reduce 50% of the deforestation by policing it.”

Full Transparency

President Castro’s goal is to give Hondurans pride by creating forestry-based jobs. The government says it will be ready to sell 7.7 million credits early next year under the REDD+ mechanism — a fully transparent national system that correlates forest protection and carbon allowances. Honduras will use the money for sustainable forestry for furniture-making and flooring. It will also build agroforestry businesses such as coffee production while planting trees to restore its forest. Eco-tourism will eventually become an enterprise.

Now that the trees are valued, Honduras could leverage the money to negotiate loans with the International Monetary Fund. Currently, the primary source of money coming into the country is revenues from its diaspora to support families — necessary because locally-domiciled companies have avoided paying taxes there. Honduras also exports its coffee, bananas, and textiles, with 41% of that going to the United States. Mexico, Canada, and the European Union are also buyers of their goods.

The possibility of mass climate migration is alarming, with people escaping flooding, heat waves, or droughts. Moreover, the developed countries have produced the most heat-trapping emissions while the emerging nations are trying to cope with the aftermath. The Global Carbon Budget warns that if we exceed the 1.5 degree CelsiusCEL -1.3% benchmark — at 1.2 degrees now — then all nations will experience more extreme weather with economic hardships to follow.

Honduras is just one example. Pakistan is another. The global consultancy McKinsey says that unless climate change is addressed and controlled, 30% of that nation will be uninhabitable in 2050. Twice this decade, the country has been under water. Those at the bottom of the economic pyramid suffer the most, although no one is immune.

The Multiplier Effect

In 2010, Pakistan flooded because of unseasonable rains. The trees, which hold the soil together, had been cut down. That created flash floods that wiped out entire cities and towns in Northwestern Pakistan. And in the summer of 2022, it happened again — brought on by a heatwave that occurred in the spring. That led to an early glacier melt, exacerbated by heavy rains. The ‘perfect storm’ formed, destroying communities and producing a disaster with which the country remains ensconced.

“Either you invest in these countries and make them more resilient or you wait for disaster to happen,” says Hasan Anwer, program director for the Pakistan Environment Trust, who spoke with this writer during COP27. “The migrants will eventually find their way to Europe and the United States. It leads to conflict, with the Syrian refugee crisis being a template of what can happen. The climate crisis will be far worse in magnitude. Imagine the multiplier effect.”

Pakistan is responsible for 0.7% of global emissions. It is also highly vulnerable to climate change and lacks the funds to build adequate infrastructure.

As for Syria, war made the country unlivable. Many found their way to Europe after boarding unsafe boats and washing ashore in Greece. Today, it is Pakistan that is racked with pain. Tomorrow, it could be Iran. Therein is the multiplier effect, which exempts no country and no national economy.

People who lose everything must go — even if the journey means risking their lives and leaving their histories behind. The nations prone to the worst effects of climate change need assistance. And the most effective way is through carbon financing, which provides economic opportunity. But it also generates the funds to run their economies on renewable energy and low-cost fuels while building modern infrastructure to protect themselves from natural disasters.

If the United States wants Honduras to quell migration and preserve its forest to mitigate climate change, then supporting its democracy and buying its sovereign credits is crucial. The corporations doing business there need to do the same. That includes ConcentrixCNXC 0.0%, WalmartWMT +0.4%, Alorica, Mcdonald’s, and Startek.

“We are looking for climate justice,” says Minister Medina of Honduras. “Our president has made the environment a priority. Sovereign carbon credits are the best way to stop deforestation, limit migration, and reduce inequality. We are part of the solution. We are not part of the problem.”

Honduras is going to the carbon markets to save its economy and prevent a brain drain. But what is happening to Honduras is not uncommon — best illustrated by the recent flooding in Pakistan. Unless we mitigate our emissions, a broad commercial fallout is inevitable. That’s the reality of rising temperatures, highlighting the need to achieve global climate goals.