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REDD in the news: 16-22 February 2009

REDD in the news: 16-22 February 2009

The big (bad) news this week is Indonesia’s decision to allow the conversion of peat lands to oil palm plantations. Hillary Clinton fails to raise the issue during her trip to Jakarta and a new paper from the University of Toronto confirms the human role in Indonesian peat fires. discusses the ethics of “additionality”. Sommer Films posts a series of REDD interviews in Poznan on YouTube.

Carbon Positive discusses the implications for the climate negotiations of the bush fires in Australia. A UNEP report states that the Amazon rainforest is in big trouble. CABI’s blog comments on WWF’s report, released last week, and asks whether ecosystem services could save the Amazon. A new paper in Nature finds that rainforests absorb 20% of emissions annually. Guyana’s politicians discuss REDD in the Budget Debate 2009. Ecosystem Marketplace looks at PES in Brazil.

16 February 2009
Ethical Issues Embedded in the Bali Road Map Agenda on Deforestation discusses the ethics of additionality and REDD.

In studying REDD, the plan to use the criterion of “additonality” gives raise to several ethical questions. On the face of things this condition is merely common sense. It requires the inclusion of only forests that are targeted for deforestation, allowing developing countries to sell carbon credits gained by reducing their deforestation rates against a baseline deforestation rate (Richards and Jenkins). This insures that carbon payments are additional benefits by excluding forests that would store carbon without these payments. However, many critics and commentators note that this approach raises a number of ethical issues.

Costa Rica to Receive Income from Environmental Services
Post on A Costa Rica Travel Guide blog based on the release of a World Bank report “Development with Less Carbon: Latin American Response to the Climatic Change Challenge”.

The vice president for the Latin American and Caribbean World Bank division, Pamela Cox, mentioned that Costa Rica has international recognition for its work in setting a financial value to the preservation of its ecosystem.

Sommer Films has posted interviews about REDD carried out in Poznan. The interviews are “raw video footage of a work-in-progress info video documentary on REDD”.

17 February 2009
My Big Fat Geek Wording
Danny Chivers posted the full length version of his article in the January 2009 issue of New Internationalist. The long version includes his take on REDD:

Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)

What Is It? A major discussion topic at Poznan. The latest proposal involves adding the carbon stored in forests into the carbon market, allowing countries to generate emissions permits by NOT chopping down their forests.

  • FAIRNESS: 2/10. In one fell swoop, forest lands where people have lived for thousands of years would be commodified and sold from beneath them, generating credits to allow wealthy Northerners to carry on driving and shopping.
  • EFFECTIVENESS: 4/10. Protecting the forests is vital for preventing climate disaster – deforestation is currently responsible for about 20% of global carbon emissions. However, inclusion in a trading scheme would mean these savings would be cancelled out by extra emissions elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, new World Bank-funded research has revealed that recognising indigenous forest people’s land rights would cost less and be more effective than using the carbon markets.
  • MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS EFFECTS: 6/10. Quantifying the carbon in forests is incredibly difficult. Whatever carbon value is placed on a patch of jungle will be scientifically dubious, but then used to justify an equal amount of emissions elsewhere.
  • CURRENT SUPPORT: 5/10. This is very contentious and hotly debated within the UNFCCC process. Southern countries may eventually be forced to agree to it if other sources of forest protection funding don’t show up.
  • It’s A Bit Like… “Your house is now an important carbon sink and has been used to justify 200 Australians driving to the mall. Don’t worry, follow these rules and we’ll still let you live here…for now.”

Australian fires smoke out Kyoto failings
Article on Carbon Positive about the bush fires in Australia.

While much of those emissions are expected to be offset by rapid re-growth in just a few years, scientists can’t yet give an accurate measurement of the net carbon impact from such events. That’s not least because of the impact of potent methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which add to the large volume of carbon dioxide output.

Australian forests and their ecosystems show a remarkable ability to recover from fire, turning from a blackened wasteland to green-shoots wonderland in a matter of months. Explosive re-growth sees large amounts of carbon re-absorbed back into the forests in short space of time, helping offset the huge emissions from their burning.

Guyana’s commitment to deforestation attracts $247M
Kaieteur News reports that Guyana’s Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh says that work will continue on Guyana’s readiness plan for REDD. The $247 million in the headline is the amount included in the 2009 Budget to “strengthen Guyana’s hydrometeorological capabilities”.

[T]there will be stakeholder consultations to achieve a consensus in the position that Guyana will take as a formal submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen in December, in efforts to strike a new post-Kyoto agreement that provides positive incentives for highly forested countries, such as Guyana, with low deforestation rates.

These activities are outlined in the 2009 Budget presented in the National Assembly last Monday.

18 February 2009
Could ecosystem services save the Amazon?
Post on CABI’s blog about WWF’s recent report which suggests that the Amazon rainforest may be worth more standing than cleared for agriculture. The post then moves on to REDD in general.

There are a number of key challenges to REDD implementation that remain, however. Katia Karousakis of the OECD identifies these as:

  • monitoring, reporting and verification for national inventory purposes
  • capacity building in developing countries and ensuring enabling policy environments, including land tenure
  • minimising perverse incentives such as agricultural and energy subsidies

Deforestation jumps 55% in Vietnam province
Mongabay reports on an increase in deforestation in Vietnam’s Dak Nong province.

Forest officials attribute the increase to high commodity prices, which incentivize the conversion of forest for cropland, as well as lack of staff and resources among companies that have leased forest concessions.

Vietnam has one of the world’s highest rates of primary forest loss. Between 1990 and 2005 the country lost 78 percent of its old-growth forests. Much of these were replaced with industrial plantations — overall forest cover has actually increased 38 percent since 1990.

Plantations are biologically impoverished relative to natural forests. They also store less carbon.

New Rules Allow Use of Peatland For Plantations
Article in the The Jakarta Globe about Indonesia’s decision to allow clearing peatlands for oil palm plantations.

“Companies can only establish plantations on mature or semi-mature peatlands,” [Agriculture Minister] Anton [Apriyanto] said, while acknowledging that the implementation of the new regulation would be difficult. The ministry, he said, would increase monitoring and control. There are 18.3 million hectares of peatland across Indonesia. The regulations governing land use have been widely ignored, with millions of hectares of land being cleared and burned annually.
[ . . . ]
Crude palm oil is Indonesia’s most important commodity, with the nation being the world’s biggest producer, having surpassed Malaysia. In 2008, the country exported CPO worth $10.7 billion, giving rise to the payment of Rp 13 trillion in export duties.

Indonesia reopens peatland to palm oil plantation
The Guardian reports that the Indonesian government has lifted a year-long freeze on the use of peat land for oil palm plantations.

Indonesia has withheld permits since December 2007, but will start issuing them immediately under the new tighter restrictions. Indonesia’s agriculture ministry estimated only 2m out of the country’s 25m hectares of peat land would now be eligible for palm oil plantation.

But green campaigners are incensed. “We think it’s crazy,” said Martin Baker, of Greenpeace International in Asia.

19 February 2009

Amazon rainforest in big trouble, says UN
Mongabay reports on a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “GEO Amazonia” (pdf – 21.3 MB).

“Climate change is putting pressure on the Amazonian ecosystems making them more vulnerable,” UNEP said in a statement.

To avoid the worst outcomes from forest loss and climate change, the report calls for Amazon nations to develop a “unified Amazonian environmental vision” and define the region’s role in development.

“Countries sharing this rich yet fragile ecosystem have recently developed strategies for conservation and sustainable development, but they have yet to develop a unified Amazonian environmental vision,” write Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, and Francisco J. Ruiz, Acting Secretary General of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization in the forward of the report.

Rainforests absorb 20% of emissions annually
Mongabay reports on an article in Nature which states that “natural forests are an immense carbon sink, helping slow the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels.”

The research, which combined the new data from African rainforests with previously published data from the Americas and Asia, lends support to the idea that old-growth forests are critical to addressing climate change. Recent climate negotiations have included debates on compensating tropical countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (“REDD” or “avoided deforestation”).

“To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests, based on realistic prices for a tonne of carbon, should be valued at around £13 billion per year,” said study co-author Lee White, Gabon’s Chief Climate Change Scientist. “This is a compelling argument for conserving tropical forests.”

“Predominantly rich polluting countries should be transferring substantial resources to countries with tropical forests to reduce deforestation rates and promote alternative development pathways,” added Lewis.

Tropical Rain Forests’ Absorption of Greenhouse Gases May Fall
Bloomberg interviews Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds. The article focusses on Lewis’ findings that “Tropical rainforests will will likely slow their absorption of carbon dioxide in the coming decades due to aging, hastening the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that add to global warming.”

Unstable rates of carbon-dioxide uptake by tropical forests and difficulties monitoring and measuring emissions from such regions may make the creation of carbon certificates from trees difficult, Lewis said.

“The tree growth can’t go on forever,” he said. “Absorption will have to decline. This will have an impact on the value of the carbon sinks.”

Under a proposal known as reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, or REDD, trees to be preserved can earn greenhouse-gas credits. Those credits may then be sold on carbon markets to industries such as power generators, which may need them to comply with the Kyoto treaty and its successor.

UNESCO’s “On the Frontlines of Climate Change” Forum Initiates Discussion on REDD
The website “On the Frontlines of Climate Change” has posted a “lead article” on REDD. The website was set up by UNESCO in partnership with the Secretariat of the CBD, the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum in Indigenous Issues and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The article, entitled “REDD – Hot Topic for Climate Change,” describes some of the potential benefits and costs of REDD schemes, and poses two questions to the Forum: regarding how REDD could impact Forum readers’ communities; and whether REDD could create new opportunities or negative impacts. The article requests readers to participate in an online discussion.

Peatland conversions conditionally approved
The Jakarta Post reports on the decision by Indonesia’s environment minister, Rachmat Witoelar, to approve the conversion fo peatlands to oil palm plantations.

“The conversion of peatlands is possible for certain criteria, but should be done very selectively,” Rachmat told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

“The conversion is strictly forbidden in [peatland] more than 3 meters deep.”

Asked if the Agriculture Ministry had discussed the decree with the commission, Rachmat said, ”No.”

Rachmat, who is also executive chairman of the National Commission for Climate Change, warned the conversion should also take into account the degradation rate in existing peatlands.

Alarming decision to destroy Indonesia’s last peatswamp forests
Wetlands International press release about Indonesia’s decision to allow oil palm plantations in peat swamps.

This decree ignores the major impacts that such plantations will have in terms of carbon emissions, biodiversity and increased flooding. It highly conflicts with the attempts by the EU, the Roundtable of Sustainable Palmoil (RSPO), the UN Climate Conference and the Convention on Biological Diversity to save these carbon rich and biodiversity rich areas.
[ . . . ]
The decree makes it uncertain for Indonesia to receive support from REDD, a future forest – climate scheme to reward countries that reduce their emissions from deforestation as these emissions are now likely to increase.

Indonesia confirms that peatlands will be converted for plantations
Mongabay on Indonesia’s decree allowing the conversion of peatlands for oil palm plantations. Includes comments from Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s Minister for the Environment.

Rachmat noted that the Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono had not discussed his peatlands-for-oil-palm decree with Indonesia’s National Commission for Climate Change which had been established to coordinate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and peatlands degradation.

20 February 2009

Clinton, UN praise RI role in global climate talks
Article in The Jakarta Post the visit of US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton to Jakarta.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded Indonesia for its role in global climate talks to outlining a road map for emission cuts target.

The praise was made during her meeting Thursday with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.

Clinton eulogized Indonesia’s success in hosting the Bali climate change talks, initiating a forestry forum and a coral triangle concept as efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions to tackle global warming.

Clinton, Obama botch opportunity on climate, forest conservation
Mongabay comments that Hillary Clinton failed to mention the new Indonesian decree which allows the conversion of peat forests to oil palm plantations.

At this point it is still unclear whether the decree is meant to actually boost palm oil production and appease political interests ahead of elections or simply a ruse to increase Indonesia’s potential earnings under a carbon finance mechanism that rewards countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (to “reduce emissions” a forest needs to be imminently threatened — i.e. concessioned).

A Brief Tour of Brazilian Payments for Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem Marketplace gives an overview of 12 of the “dizzying array of instruments and efforts to funnel private money towards environmental projects” in Brazil. The article documents some of the problems with the various mechanisms.

Ecosystem Marketplace has documented scores of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and corporate donors who have launched voluntary Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes designed to incorporate the economic value of ecosystems into our market economy and to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), but such schemes will only bear enough fruit to make a difference if governments provide the regulatory drivers they need.

21 February 2009
Monitoring of forest resources a priority in 2009 – Agri Minister
Kaieteur News article based on comments to Parliament in the Budget Debate 2009 from Robert Persaud, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture with responsibility for Forestry.

The Minister also noted that work will continue assiduously during this year with like-minded countries for a new post-Kyoto agreement.

This will provide for the provision of positive market-based incentives for standing forest and avoided deforestation to be submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, he said.

“Guyana will also continue partnering with the international community to do baseline studies, which will take us to a state of ‘readiness’, and this will allow for better negotiation of compensation, incentives and other benefits which will accrue to the Guyanese people, especially the indigenous and other hinterland residents,” Persaud added.

22 February 2009
Indonesian President demands leadership from the US: how about some leadership from him?
Post on Climatico noting two recent events, that “do not bode well for the future” in Indonesia: the re-emergence of the forest fire problem; and the decree to use peat lands for oil palm plantations.

Forest Fires: . . . [T]he National Action Plan for Climate Change promises to reduce forest fire hot spots by 50% in 2009. Unfortunately this year, severe fires have already been detected in Riau, Sumatra, resulting in haze over Pekanbaru, the provincial capital.
[ . . . ]
Peat Land conversion: . . . So why? The first reason involves economics and the global recession. Gatot Irianto, from the Agriculture Ministry, admits as much when he said “we still need land for oil palm plantations. We must be honest: the sector has been the main driver for the people’s economy”. The second deals with domestic politics and the upcoming general elections. As Bustar Maitar of Greenpeace accuses “with the general elections coming up, the Agriculture Ministry’s plan is fishy, because it seems like an attempt to satisfy the country’s powerful paper and palm oil industries at the expense of the environment.”

Atmospheric scientists trace the human role in Indonesian forest fires
Press release from the University of Toronto about a new paper titled “Human amplification of drought-induced biomass burning in Indonesia since 1960”, published in Nature Geoscience, March 2009.

“During the late 1970s, Indonesian Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years, marking the period when one of the world’s great tropical forests became one of the world’s largest sources of pollution,” says [Robert] Field, a PhD student of atmospheric physics. “Ultimately, this abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth. The resulting occurrences of haze currently rank among the world’s worst air pollution episodes, and are a singularly large source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

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