Tropical forests worth more left standing

23 November 2007

With major commitments to make serious cuts in carbon emissions from the USA, China or India, a deal establishing a way for rich countries to pay for "avoided deforestation" now look like a diplomatic winner at the talks to be held in Bali.


   Paying to avoid deforestation is a proposal that has been circulating for a couple of years

Logging and burning of tropical forest is estimated to produce around 20 per cent of global carbon emissions - about the same as the emissions from the United States or China .


So avoiding deforestation - by paying carbon credits to countries who set up and enforce protected areas or give forest inhabitants secure land tenure - is seen as one of the potential "low hanging fruit" to be grasped by a post-Kyoto climate change treaty.


It has support, so far, from the United States and the big developing countries which are opposed to mandatory emission reductions.


Sir Nicholas Stern, the Treasury's then chief economic adviser, said in his report last year that deforestation emitted more than the transport sector globally and stopping those emissions was the most cost-effective way of tackling climate change.


A proposal led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica for rainforest countries to take on national commitments to avoid deforestation in return for payments from the developed world has been sitting around for a couple of years, quietly gathering support.


As its proposers cleverly offered it as a first draft, no country has yet declared itself to be opposed to the proposal and now experts say it stands a good chance of becoming part of the agreement reached at the negotiations on a successor to the Kyoto climate treaty.


"No one has yet tried to kick it to death, which is a good sign," said John Lanchbery, climate change expert for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who was in Jakarta , Indonesia , last week to hold discussions on how rainforest projects might be developed.


Earlier this year the RSPB and its local partner Burung Indonesia bought a logging concession of 240,000 acres on the island of Sumatra - and chose not to log it.


Indonesian law had to be changed so they did not have to do so. The deal with the Forestry Ministry, which conservationists see as ground-breaking, permits the management of forests to obtain benefits called "ecosystem services".


The Harapan rainforest harbours 24 Sumatran tigers, the Asian elephant and a number of clouded leopards. It has 267 bird species, more than Britain , the most endangered being the Storm's stork, of which there may be only 250 left in the wild.


Directly benefiting will be the 150-strong Batin Sembilan tribe, a nomadic people that will continue to harvest rubber, honey, fruits and rattan for their own use.


This is the kind of project it is thought might attract funding under the scheme to be discussed in Bali, but rainforest countries are still divided as to whether an international fund, paid for by governments, should be set up to pay for it or whether credits bought by western companies on the carbon trading markets should be used to pay for it.


Brazil has always been keen on a fund but they have not been a success internationally and the carbon trading markets potentially offer billions.


The World Bank, whose former chief economist, the Nobel prize winning Joe Stiglitz worked up the idea, has shown itself willing to put up money to help tropical countries develop national strategies to avert deforestation. Sir Nicholas Stern, another supporter of the idea, is also a former chief economist to the World Bank.

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