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Conservationists Launch Global Campaign to Save Forests


Environmentalists say conserving the world's forests is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to combat climate change. One group - Conservation International - has launched a campaign to demonstrate just how important the world's forests are. From VOA's New York Bureau, Alex Villarreal has more.

Conservation International wants to raise awareness of the critical link between forests and climate change.

The U.S.-based organization launched its "Lost There, Felt Here" campaign on Tuesday in New York with the premiere of a public service announcement. The ad features American movie star Harrison Ford, best known for his role as Indiana Jones.

"When forests get slashed and burned, it releases tons of carbon into the air we breathe," said Harrison Ford. "It changes our climate. It hurts."

Ford has been on Conservation International's board of directors for more than 15 years.

The public service announcement features the actor losing some roots of his own - his chest hair. The campaign's central message.

"Every bit of rainforest that gets ripped out over there really hurts us over here," he said.

Burning forest contributes an estimated 20 percent to global emissions - more than cars, trucks and planes combined. Conservation International's president, Russ Mittermeier, says he hopes the ad will catch people's attention and spark change.

"We really need to come up with new mechanisms, because if we don't, and we lose these tropical forests, and all the carbon in them goes up into the atmosphere, a lot of the other things that we are doing in terms of improving technology and our energy and everything else is going to be negated," said Russ Mittermeier. "So we really need to pay attention to this issue."

The South American nation of Guyana wants to play a major role in the campaign to conserve forests and fight climate change. The Guyana Shield region of Amazon forest contains 18 percent of all carbon dioxide stored in the world's tropical forests.

Guyana's president, Bharrat Jagdeo, says his country is ready to act in exchange for economic incentives.

"We are willing to place our entire rain forest - which is larger than England - under the supervision of an international body to ensure compliance with worldclass forestry standards," said Bharrat Jagdeo. "As I have said before, we will do this if we can find the right market-based mechanisms to make it economically worthwhile."

Mr. Jagdeo says governments should pay his and other rainforest countries for the carbon stored in their trees.

The Kyoto Protocol - which imposes limits on greenhouse gas emissions - does not currently recognize forest protection actions as valid carbon credits, but U.N. negotiators are considering an expanded market to include forest conservation.

The issue will be discussed at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in 2009.

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