Forestry Carbon Sinks Concluding Comments

Tropical and subtropical forests are rich in biodiversity but are suffering a rapid rate of conversion to other land uses, particularly agriculture. The indirect drivers of deforestation, rapid population and economic growth in developing countries, are very powerful and probably inexorable. In the absence of national and local rewards for preserving forests, economic and social imperatives in deforesting countries outweigh the benefits of conservation. Governments fall back on regulatory approaches to the prevention of deforestation but these often fail because of weak administration or corruption.

The international organizations that promote biodiversity conservation are ineffectual compared with pro-development trade and financial organizations. For example, there is no specific funding allocated to carry out the goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity to halt deforestation. At the same time government departments responsible for forest conservation in developing countries tend to be weak. While there has been a welcome increase in the level of forest protection afforded by National Parks, the effectiveness of such reserves in developing countries is often problematic.

Given that carbon removed from the atmosphere by plantation forests now has a market value, a question was asked whether the consequent increase expected in plantations would favor the retention or increase in biodiversity. Case studies of two CDM projects under the Kyoto Protocol suggested that the direct biodiversity benefits are limited because the species mixtures in plantations, which form the backbone of the proposals, tend to be narrow, whereas the native forests are species rich. The indirect benefits of CDM projects, in terms of relieving pressure on protected areas, might be more important.

The deforestation and degradation of forests is responsible for some 17 percent of greenhouse emissions. However, the Kyoto Protocol does not create a market for the abatement of emissions achieved by avoiding deforestation and degradation. A concrete result of the Bali climate change conference in December 2007 was the intent to develop a work program to develop mechanisms to reduce emissions from deforestation. The development of effective reward systems for storing carbon in existing forests will be a very difficult exercise given the complexity of the social, economic and political settings in the countries concerned. For example, land tenure arrangements need to be understood given that they have a great bearing on how and to whom the payments for sequestered carbon are to be made. Even if such a mechanism is adopted post-Kyoto, it could not be operational before 2013. (An analysis of the methodological and funding issues in REDD is in Chapter 8.)

Meanwhile, non-government organizations and the World Bank are developing mechanisms for the delivery of carbon credits for avoided deforestation. These have the potential to prevent the irreversible loss of large carbon sinks and much biodiversity. However, the scale of the response will need to be very much greater than is presently promised if it is to match the pace of deforestation; unfortunately it appears inevitable that much biodiversity will be lost in the near future.

Forestry is often a preferred option for investors in the voluntary offset market. But the standards that are being applied to plantations are concerned with validating the carbon sequestered, rather than demanding biodiversity co-benefits. Emerging cap and trade schemes in the United States are being urged by non-government organizations to approve forestry offset schemes that are based on native species and have more likelihood of delivering biodiversity gains.

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The Basic Survival Guide

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