A U.N. carbon-payment scheme aimed at saving forests in poorer nations could push some species to extinction unless it is designed to spread investment across many countries, a study released on Friday shows.
The United Nations wants the scheme, called reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), to be part of a broader pact to fight climate change by rewarding poorer nations for preserving forests through carbon offset revenue.
Deforestation is a major source of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The United Nations hopes REDD will slow the destruction of forests, particularly tropical forests that act like lungs by soaking up and locking away planet-warming carbon dioxide.
But Oscar Venter, of the University of Queensland in Australia, and his colleagues says the risk is that investors will focus more on saving forests that are most cost-effective for reducing carbon emissions, such as Brazil’s Amazon basin.
That would leave species-rich “hotspots” in Madagascar, Indonesia and the Philippines at risk of destruction.
“The study reveals if carbon payments focus narrowly on carbon and ignore threatened biodiversity, carbon-trading alone won’t be enough to stave off large-scale extinctions of tropical species,” said co-author Kerrie Wilson.
The study, published on Friday in the journal Science, says relatively small amounts of cash could help save species in less financially attractive areas.
Venter told Reuters any final design on REDD, which negotiators will be discussing at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen from Monday, must enshrine protection of biodiversity, a scientific term that has critical meaning to our well-being.
“We get tonnes of services from nature — water filtration, sediment retention, fire abatement, clean air. These are things that we get for free.
“It you start eroding the biodiversity providing those services, all those things, the stability of your fields for growing crops, the cleanliness of your rivers, will all start disappearing.”
Venter and his colleagues used complex modeling looking at business-as-usual deforestation rates in 68 developing countries from 2006 to 2015. They found if deforestation could be cut by 20 percent, funding for a cost-effective REDD scheme would be spent in eight countries.
The bulk of the investment would go to South America, particularly Brazil. None would go to Asia because major investments in palm oil and other crops meant the costs of displacing these activities makes REDD expensive.
Funding to cut deforestation by 40 percent would see investments in 20 countries, again mostly in South America.
The study says that through careful targeting of REDD funds, the biodiversity benefits could be doubled while incurring a 4-8 percent reduction in the amount of averted carbon emissions.
Venter said one solution was for big conservation groups such as WWF and The Nature Conservancy to spend more of their sizeable annual budgets on developing REDD schemes with a major biodiversity component.
He also felt that some companies would be willing to pay a slightly higher price for carbon offsets from projects that helped saved areas rich in endangered animal and plant species.