World Mulls Paying for Forest Protection
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 2:58 PM
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- For years Irwandi Yusuf fought for the independence of Aceh province. But now he's at the forefront of another struggle: trying to persuade wealthy nations and companies to offset their carbon emissions by saving his homeland's forests.
Yusuf, who was elected governor after the 2004 tsunami ushered in an era of peace in the province, has traveled the world hawking the innovative plan to potential investors, including Starbucks and Goldman Sachs.
Indonesia is one of several tropical countries, including Brazil, pushing proposals at the ongoing U.N. climate talks in Bali that offer up their forests as stocks of carbon for wealthy nations or companies to buy to offset their emissions of greenhouse gases.
In effect, it means they get paid to stop chopping down their trees.
"The world needs the forests of Aceh," said Yusuf, who was in jail when the tsunami hit but managed to escape seconds before it engulfed the facility. In total, some 160,000 people in Aceh were killed.
The 47-year-old said he had no firm offers yet, but hoped to announce prospective investors at Bali along with his counterpart from the eastern Indonesian region of Papua, which is also home to vast stretches of rainforest.
He is pledging to spend future proceeds _ projected to be several million dollars _ on more forest rangers and creating jobs for people who live close to the protected areas.
With forest-clearing fires and peat land degradation in tropical countries responsible for 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions _ much of them from in Indonesia _ any project that slows deforestation would be a major boost in the fight against climate change.
Trade in carbon credits began in 2005 under the Kyoto climate change protocol, which committed wealthy nations to cut down on greenhouse gases but also allowed them to offset them by investing in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries.
Under current rules, companies can earn credits for investing in tree planting projects that absorb carbon dioxide, but not for avoided deforestation ones like the one Yusuf is proposing.
Most current projects involve investing in technology to reduce emissions from factories or power stations.
Government representatives meeting in Bali in hopes of launching negotiations for an agreement replacing Kyoto will be considering whether and how to include avoided deforestation projects in any new accord.
Many expect provisions for avoided deforestation credits to be included in a new deal.
"Pretty much all the major players that have opposed it in recent years are now supporting it in principle," said Johannes Ebeling, a consultant at EcoSecurities, a company that sources emission reduction projects. "It is hard to imagine an agreement where it is not included in some way."
Any post-Kyoto regime would not go into effect until after 2012, but credits from protected forests projects are already traded on voluntary markets that have arisen for projects not recognized under Kyoto or for investors in the United States, which has not signed up to the deal.
A preliminary endorsement of avoided deforestation at the Bali talks would boost confidence in the nascent industry because buyers could expect their credits would one day be legally recognized as offsets.
Most current or prospective buyers are speculators or companies or multinational agencies seeking ways to offset their carbon emissions in creative ways, often for public relations purposes.
In one of the first avoided deforestation deals, mining company Rio Tinto invested in a project in Australia in 2006 that paid farmers not to clear vegetation that will abate approximately one million tons of carbon dioxide over a period of 120 years.
Environmentalists, the United Nations and many Western governments, which have failed to stop rampant logging in Indonesia over the last 20 years despite well-funded campaigns, are proponents of avoided deforestation projects.
"Nothing is going to work unless there is cash on the table," said Frank Momberg, from Fauna and Flora International, a conservation group working with Yusuf on the plan to sell credits from 1.85 million acres of virgin forest in Aceh.
Several recent studies including one by the World Bank have shown that at current carbon prices land owners in tropical countries can earn more money selling offsets than by logging or planting oil palm.
Most objections to avoided deforestation focus on the difficulties of implementing and regulating the projects. These concerns are amplified in Indonesia, which is wracked with corruption and poor governance.
Debates are raging over how to best to establish a baseline, or average level of deforestation over a set period of years, to measure any progress in protecting forests, as they are on ways to accurately measure carbon levels in forests.
There are also concerns on who would receive the funds _ the national government or individual landowners _ and how to ensure loggers do not simply move to another region, thus negating any effect on emissions.