Eight countries with the largest tropical forests have agreed to push for their protection to be made eligible for carbon credits. In related news, this week the Top Ten list of the world’s most severely polluted places, were named.
Environmental groupClimate Ark says that Indonesia’s rainforests contain 60% of all the tropical peat in the world. Peatland rainforests are wet, swampy rainforests that when drained and cleared, their peat filled soils become highly susceptible to long burning, carbon and methane rich fires. Such rainforests on peat soils are one of the world’s most important carbon sinks and play a vital role in helping to regulate the global climate. They are also very rich in biodiversity and a refuge for species like orang-utans, since most of the non-peat lowland forests have already been cleared.
Rainforest peatlands are being destroyed fast; primarily by palm oil, timber, and paper and pulp companies. The Indonesian government has endorsed a massive biofuel program which foresees an increase in oil palm plantations from currently just over 6 million hectares to eventually over 26 million hectares. 5.25 million hectares have just been allocated for biofuel production, including one million hectares to PT SMART, one of the companies which was involved in agreements for a mega-plantation in the part of Kalimantan known as the ‘Heart of Borneo’ which has been halted for the time being, but is likely to reemerge at some point in some guise or other.
Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesias environment minister, said this week that Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea,Gabon, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Congo and Indonesia, with 80 per cent of the worlds tropical forest cover, had formed the Forestry Eight, whose objective is to have forest preservation included in the successor to the Kyoto protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012. Under Kyoto, only reforestation and afforestation are eligible for carbon credits.
The group plans to meet at the UN-convened gathering on climate change in New York on September 24th. Formal negotiations on the global framework are to begin at a UN conference in Bali in December.
Indonesia and Brazil are the worlds third and fourth largest emitters of greenhouse gases respectively because of the amount of carbon that escapes during deforestation.
The Indonesian government says that the country has lost about 1.87m hectares of forest each year since 2000. Under current carbon trading schemes, protecting the felled trees could have been worth as much as 29 billion a year.
Forests reduce greenhouse gases by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. TheUK Stern review on climate change estimated that deforestation is responsible for about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Indonesia’s forest burnings give much grief to neighbouring countries when the vast fires blanket South-East Asia in smog.
The country’s Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has told Australia’s ABC radio’s PM program that Australia’s A$200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate “will not solve too many problems”.
Wetlands International places Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions behind only the United States and China because of the vast tracts of deforested land in Kalimantan, where carbon-rich peat decays and catches fire every year.
According to ABC, last March, Indonesia warmly welcomed Australia’s A$200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, which is aimed fighting climate change by preserving the world’s forests.
In July, $10 million of that money was committed to developing forest protection projects in Indonesia.
But now Minister Witoelar, is questioning what in reality the scheme can achieve.
“Maybe if it is upscaled even more because it does not solve too many problems because $200 million divided into so many areas over five years does not give a lot of forest aid,” he said.
Getting paid for keeping the forests alive will not be easy to win agreement and currently, much deforestation is caused by illegal logging activities, which governments have condoned or been impotent to prevent.
Bloomberg News calculated in a recentarticle, that by curbing the drainage of the huge peatswamps in Kalimantan and using their stored carbon to offset emissions elsewhere (carbon trading), could be worth as much as 29 billion ($39 billion) per year. This was based on the UNs current estimate that traded carbon is worth 14.59 per tonne, and on research by WL/Delft Hydraulics and Wetlands International (PEAT-CO2) that shows that 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are being lost from tropical peatswamps each year.
On Wednesday, the Global Canopy Programme is analliance of 29 scientific institutions in 19 countries, launched of the Forests NOW Declaration in London, which calls on world governments to take urgent action on deforestation in the tropics and sub-tropics, which causes 18-25% of global carbon emissions, more than the worlds entire transport sector.
The Declaration calls for a series of carbon policies and market reforms to incentivise the protection of tropical forests and safeguard the vital services they provide including capture and storage of carbon dioxide.
Forests have been absorbing and storing carbon for millennia and contain 60% of the carbon stored on Earth. Deforestation releases this carbon into the atmosphere contributing significantly to global warming. Action to stop deforestation and to provide sustainable sources of forest products and stimulate forest restoration and the planting of new forests will help substantially in the fight against climate change.
Global Canopy says deforestation, driven by economic forces, also threatens critical natural habitats across the world particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Tropical forests cover less than 7 percent of the Earths total surface area but are home to 50 percent of the worlds species and are critical to the survival of over a billion of the worlds poorest and most vulnerable people. New market-driven incentives are required now if we are to avoid irrevocable damage to our environment and to ourselves.