Saturday, August 1, 2009

Saving a Rainforest (final)

“REDD should enhance recognition that indigenous people have maintained the state of their forests, not penalize them for this stewardship," said Vasco van Roosmalen, director of the Amazon Conservation Team-Brazil, an NGO that has helped the Surui develop an indigenous park-guards program and biocultural maps of their territories. "The Surui are guardians of forest carbon."

And while the debate continues, participants aren't sitting on the sidelines – REDD projects are sprouting around the world. Although these projects are limited to voluntary markets (like the Chicago Climate Exchange) where carbon fetches a fraction of the price seen in compliance markets (E.U. ETS), the number is nonetheless increasing due to the appetite of corporations to appear environmentally responsible. After all protecting habitat for endangered species and providing health and education to forest-dwelling communities is perhaps more compelling to consumers than projects to capture emissions from agricultural waste.

Kwamalasamutu ("Kwamala"), a village in Suriname (June 2008). Photo by Rhett Butler.

"If you had a choice between carbon credits generated when a commercial factory pig farm reduces its toxic methane emissions, or carbon credits from a threatened natural forest that brings with them protection of elephants, lions, cheetah, giraffe and 54 other large mammal species which one would you prefer?" said Mike Korchinsky, Founder and President of Wildlife Works, a firm that just signed the first REDD deal in Kenya.

The Nhambita project in Mozambique has won acclaims for its levels of transparency and the benefits it is delivering to people in a desperately poor area. The project was initiated by Envirotrade, a London-based carbon finance outfit.

Philip Powell, founder of Envirotrade, explains: "The Nhambita project employs more than 150 people and compensates thousands of farmers who voluntarily sign agreements to confront destructive forest fires, conserve forest and replant trees on their lands. Our greatest long-term challenge is to deliver equitable and significant benefits directly to individuals and communities that are the forest custodians. We believe the best way to advance this is through transparent reporting and a commitment to fair compensation for measured changes in forest and land management."

School children in Madagascar (October 2004). Half of Madagascar's children under five years of age are malnourished. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Meanwhile, the Juma project in the Amazonas state of Brazil, which is the first project in the world to attain the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance's Gold Standard for its safeguards, is compensating 6,000 families who voluntarily agree to limit forest cutting. The project is expected to reduce emissions in an at-risk forest area by 190 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2050.

John O. Niles, a REDD expert with the Tropical Forest Group, a forest policy think tank, said that REDD offers the potential to make the world a lot more aware of indigenous issues.

"REDD will put a microscope on these issues and will be infinitely better than the status quo," he said. "For decades, capitalists, socialists, private companies, governments and local operators have blasted into tropical communities, razed forests and moved on with little concern for the fact that they just denuded the land. I think a UN-driven system of incentives for keeping forests, a system of oversight with some transparency, and the strong voice of critical observers will lead to more positive outcomes more of the time. Anything via the UNFCCC is likely to be an improvement over plantation forestry, industrial logging, large infrastructure projects or commercial agriculture."

Dan Nepstad, an ecologist formerly of the Woods Hole Research Institute but now with the Moore Foundation, agrees.

"We now have heads of state listening to indigenous leaders on this issue – that is unheard of."

Gold mining in Peru (October 2005). Photo by Rhett Butler.

Moving forward

Given myriad issues, will REDD designers be able to develop a workable framework? People involved in REDD discussions think so.

"I think the chances are very strong that if we get a climate agreement in Copenhagen that REDD will be a part of it," said Tracy Johns of the Woods Hole Research Center. "All of the stakeholders that have been involved in the REDD process in recent years—governments, NGOs, the private sector, indigenous peoples—have done a lot of work and made a lot of progress on the issues and challenges for REDD. I think in many ways the REDD negotiation process is more advanced than many of the other lines of negotiation that are under way for Copenhagen."

While the details for REDD are far from settled and obstacles remain, there is growing support for the phased approach proposed by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations and presented in the Meridian report for the Norwegian government. In the first phase, countries would receive funds—as they would through the World Bank's FCPF, the UN REDD Program, or another voluntary mechanism—to develop a national REDD strategy including consultation with indigenous peoples and local communities, capacity building, and pilot projects.

Phase 2 would support reform of land tenure and forestry laws, sustainable forest management initiatives, and payments for environmental services to local communities, indigenous peoples, and other parties. Funding would be performance-based and come from a global fund financed by voluntary donations, auctioning of emissions allowances, and possibly fuel and carbon taxes in some countries.

Rainforest pool in Belize (May 2008). Photo by Rhett Butler.

Phase 3 would include compliance-grade monitoring, reporting, and verification of emissions against agreed reference levels. It would likely be financed by the sale of REDD units within global compliance markets or a non-market compliance mechanism. Supporters of the phased approach say it accommodates both fund- and market-based mechanisms, includes provisions for indigenous people, offers flexibility allowing countries at different levels of capacity to participate, and considers many of the outstanding concerns for REDD.

For conservationists REDD offers the best hope that rainforests—including their biodiversity, ecosystem services, and resident peoples—can be saved.

"REDD is being asked to do a lot of things—improving governance, promoting sustainable development, and mitigating climate change, but the potential benefits are so great, it's a chance worth taking," said Schwartzman, whose paper helped get things started.

"As long as forests are worth more dead than alive, it's going to be extremely difficult, and probably ultimately impossible, to preserve more than fragments of the world's forests. Creating that positive economic value for living forests is a key part of the solution to the global warming crisis."

Once again, a big thanks to Rhett A. Butler for his gracious permission to reprint this great, great, article and those absolutely amazing photos.

Don't forget to check out his website: mongabay

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