Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Carbon absorbing tropical forests a potential gold mine

Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post 25th February

Indonesia could reap huge financial benefits from carbon sales after international scientists discovered that trees in tropical forests can absorb greater levels of carbon than those in the other parts of the world.

The study, conducted in the African tropics, revealed tropical forest trees absorb about 18 percent of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels.

The report’s lead author, Simon Lewis from the University of Leeds, said the rainforest would substantially buffer the rate of human-induced climate change.

“It’s well known that about half of the ‘missing’ carbon is being dissolved into the oceans, and that the other half is going somewhere on land in vegetation and soils, but we were not sure precisely where. According to our study, about half the total carbon ‘land sink’ is in tropical forest trees,” Lewis said in statement made available to The Jakarta Post.

Indonesia has about 120 million hectares of rainforest, the third largest in the world after Brazil and the Congo.

A member of the research team, Terry Sunderland from the Bogor-based Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said that carbon up-take studies were particularly important for Indonesia ahead of the implementation of the emission reduction from deforestation and degradation (REDD) scheme, adopted at the Bali climate change meeting in December 2007.

The scheme is expected to take effect after 2012 when Indonesia’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Under the mechanism, developed nations compensate countries in tropical areas by safeguarding their forests based on the ton value of carbon stored in the trees.

Indonesia has been actively engaged in international dialogue about the REDD, while a number of regional administrations have signed agreements with investors on the REDD project.

Indonesia has however seen rapid deforestation at the hands of large-scale conversion projects, particularly for palm oil plantations.

The deforestation rate between 1987 and 1997 reached 1.8 million hectares annually. From 1998 to 2000, it rose sharply to 2.8 million hectares per year before falling back to 1.8 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2006.

“If carbon payment schemes such as REDD are to succeed in Indonesia, they must be based on accurate assessments on the amount of carbon stored in the country’s forests. These calculations need to be based on local and realistic figures,” Sunderland said.

The report’s implications for future carbon payment schemes are echoed in the comments of the report’s co-author, Lee White, Gabon’s Chief Climate Change Scientist.

“The removal of nearly 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests, based on realistic prices for a ton of carbon, should be valued at around £13 billion per year. This is a compelling argument for conserving tropical forests,” White said.

Lewis said developed countries wishing to reduce their carbon footprint could assist conserving forests by “transferring substantial resources to countries with tropical forests to reduce deforestation rates and promote alternative development pathways.”

Sunderland warned that any investment in REDD or similar carbon payment schemes must first involve formalized structures and the enforcement of land rights for forest communities.

“It’s absolutely essential that a significant proportion of any payments for environmental services, such as REDD payments, are made to those who rely on forests for their wellbeing.

After all, up to a billion of the world’s poorest people rely on forests in one way or another for their livelihoods,” Sunderland said.