2011 Grantham Prize Winner
This eight-part special report on the world’s forests, running approximately 14,000 words, ran in the September 25, 2010 issue of The Economist. This report commanded the cover of every edition of The Economist, including its best-selling US edition. The series decribes the state of forests. It evaluates the rising threats they face from human exploitation and climate change. With an emphasis on tropical forests, Astill also explains their critical environmental importance and suggests ways to save them. Astill weighs the main forest conservation efforts, including payments for ecosystem services, community forest management, and certification schemes, and pays particular attention to REDD+, the nascent international effort to slash tropical deforestation. This special issue of The Economist came out two months before the UN’s climate change summit in Cancun, at which a global agreement was reached to launch REDD+.
These articles suggest the risks to tropical forests are extremely grave, but that the situation is not hopeless. Once forests are valued properly, Astill argues, they can be saved. The report argues that this should not be considered optional: a future without extensive tropical and other forests is too dire to contemplate. To reinforce that message, Astill sought to impart some of his own sense of wonder at these precious ecosystems.
To research the series, Astill travelled to the forests of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Uganda, where he interviewed many people trying to protect trees or destroy them. The report was also informed by his previous assignments in the forests of Congo, Cameroon, India, and Kenya, and Astill compiled an impressive and extensive bibliography of forest literature as part of his reporting. To add further context to the series, Astill conducted over one hundred telephone and email interviews with experts in the USA, Australia, Canada, China, Gabon, and Switzerland.
Not surprisingly, this special issue of The Economist generated a huge response from readers. For the scope and quality of his reporting, and for the significant impact that this series had upon discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010, James Astill is awarded The Grantham Prize for 2011.
Grantham Prize Jury Comments on Seeing the Wood
Forests are indispensible to life on earth as we know it but they’re being chopped down at an alarming rate. As the destruction spreads, so does the economic and environmental impact on the planet and its climate. In an eight-part special report for The Economist, notable for its breadth, sophistication and even-handedness, journalist James Astill clearly explained the stakes and examined the options for action to save the remaining tropical forests. The problem, Astill wrote, is that forests are undervalued, even by those who depend on them, and changing that fundamental disconnect will require not just creative policies but political will.
Astill traveled thousands of miles to Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Uganda to report first hand on “the world’s lungs” and the critical role forests play in sequestering carbon, regulating runoff, preserving biodiversity and providing livelihoods and food to millions of people. The stories introduced readers to scientists, indigenous communities, loggers and planters who all have a direct interest in the future of forests. The report makes clear that forests today face severe risks but the situation is not hopeless.
Illustrated with stunning photos and revealing maps, this meticulously researched and thoroughly reported series deserves acclaim for spotlighting forests as an often-misunderstood component of the international debate on climate change policy. It pays particular attention to REDD, an international effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation by paying people in developing countries not to cut down trees. Astill’s timely reporting generated an enormous public response and its impact was apparent from the broad circulation of the story in advance of last year’s UN climate conference in Cancun, which ended with an agreement on REDD.
About James Astill
James Astill is the Energy and Environment editor of The Economist, based in London. He was previously South Asia correspondent, based in Delhi and writing about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. He has also been the weekly news magazine’s defense and terrorism correspondent, based in London, and Afghanistan correspondent, based in Islamabad. Before joining The Economist, he wrote for the Guardian for four years, based in Pakistan and in east and central Africa. He has a particular interest in Congo. He began writing journalism in Tokyo, while studying Japanese and Japanese theatre. He was educated at Oxford University and Tokyo University, where he studied Japanese and Japanese classical theatre, as a Monbusho research Scholar.