Going green with REDD

Monday July 13 2009


To combat the effects of climate change by reducing carbon emissions, the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or simply REDD, has come up with a programme to compensate countries geared towards the process.

REDD is expected to spur a massive flow of funds to tropical countries, help preserve rainforests and deliver economic benefits to impoverished rural communities.

It is is already in place in Kenya and Brazil.

In Kenya, the Wildlife Works has initiated the Wildlife Works Carbon at Rukinga Ranch in Taita district of the Coast Province, situated in the dry arid scrubland between Tsavo East and West in southeast Kenya.

It is a vibrant ecosystem, home to elephants, lions and fifty other species of large mammals besides the bird and plant life.

The ranch has an organic greenhouse to provide local farmers with cash-generating citrus trees and free agro-forestry trees to use for building and fuelwood.

Since the land is not conducive for agriculture, the local population sees the dryland forest as a source of fuelwood and charcoal and where applicable clear it for habitation or subsistence agriculture.

This is a problem repeated throughout the continent.

In Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, the country’s largest catchment area, the Mau Forest, is under threat from human habitation and illegal loggers. In the Democratic Republic Congo of Congo, traditionally forests have been seen as “valueless” and hence their unabated plundering.

Forests have largely been ignored in national development strategies and their wanton destruction has had far reaching consequences such as the drying up of major rivers and the consequent effect of low water levels in dams for power generation such as the recent closure of the Masinga Dam in Eastern Kenya; loss of biodiversity and livelihoods leading to more poverty, soil erosion, drought, other climate change effects and emissions of greenhouse gases leading to global warming.

In February, Wildlife Works Carbon in collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service, announced East Africa’s first carbon offset projects to take advantage of the emerging global carbon markets covering REDD. The Kenya Forest Service is the national focal point for REDD projects.

Alfred Gichu, the chief forest officer said that the forest service intends to forge strong partnerships with the private sector.

“We welcome the entrance of Wildlife Works Carbon into the market, to assist us and Kenya’s rural landowners in managing the technical complexity of the global carbon market, to engage the global carbon offset buyer in our efforts to protect our wilderness heritage and to contribute to global efforts in climate change mitigation.”

Already, a group in the Amazon has signed up for the new venture.

In the Amazon Forest, which covers 1.57 million square kilometres of rainforest, the local community who are members of the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve Project, the Amazon’s first independently validated project under REDD, are being rewarded for protecting their forests and reducing carbon emissions in the process.

Mike Korchinsky of Wildlife Works Carbon said he got interested when “A few months ago, a friend trading in carbon credits suggested l look into REDD because it is about protecting trees we already have.” It wasn’t an easy to implement because of the stringent standards set by the Voluntary Carbon Standards which allows for participation in the global carbon markets covering REDD.

The implementation programme is complex, expensive and time consuming.

It involved documenting Rukinga’s carbon value by counting all the trees in order to calculate the carbon emissions if the forest was not there.

The land was divided into grids, with teams of men recording the height and width of the canopies, and the tree species, compete with their location using the global positioning system.

“It’s a bit futuristic and speculative because you have to work out what would happen if you weren’t there to protect the trees. Historical evidence shows that deforestation is rampant. But you have to also include other parameters for the next 20 years such as population pressure, the estimate consumption of fuelwood among others. You have to make a case for the auditors.”

One has to also provide evidence that while you may be protecting your forest, you’re not moving the problem of deforestation elsewhere.

The stringent criterion is necessary to keep unscrupulous people from exploiting the carbon trade market.

“Wildlife Works has been a leader in using the power of the consumer market place to conserve biodiversity and protect forest habitat, and we see the emerging Voluntary Carbon Marketplace as a logical and exciting extension of our 10 year history,” says Mr Korchinsky.

Wildlife Works Carbon will help local landowners in the developing countries gain financially from their forest and biodiversity assets whether they are communities or private landowners.

If the REDD venture takes hold in Africa and other parts of the developing world, it may help save the last of the ancient forests by placing a true economic value on them from where the local people can directly earn carbon credits.

It may give them the much need incentive to invest their time in protecting the forests versus cutting them down for charcoal or for farming.

In an article in the March 2009 edition of the International Institute for Economic Development (IIED), Virgilio M. Viana, director-general of the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation and an IIED Visiting Fellow, writes that deforestation is not simply a result of poverty or ignorance but of expected economic benefits for the people exploiting it. “It is the result of a perverse system that financially rewards land grabbers, illegal loggers and agribusiness.

Cattle farming, for instance, is a highly profitable enterprise. From 1996 to 2006, numbers of cattle in the Brazilian Legal Amazon — that part of Brazil within the Amazon basin — rose from 37 million to 73 million.”

Viana further writes that the biggest challenge under the REDD venture is not how to reduce deforestation, but how to finance the reduction. The global carbon market reached $118 billion in 2008 but very little of it was invested in protecting tropical rainforests.

He continues his argument by stating that if the nature of the battle is predominantly economic, irreversible success will come only with sustainable finance — public, private and non-profit programmes aimed at stopping deforestation for carbon stored, biodiversity conserved, water supply protected or poverty eradicated.

Financing a new development paradigm in the Amazon is relatively low in cost compared to the environmental services produced by its standing forest ecosystems.

Take water for instance, every year, Amazonian forests pump out eight trillion tonnes of it into the atmosphere.

There is no price tag on that yet, but it has clear economic significance for Amazonian agricultural production, electricity generation and industry that generates over $1 trillion a year.

According to Viana, REDD financing mechanisms should be flexible so they can incorporate both inter-governmental funding (at national scale) and market-based funding (at project level).

It should be allowed in the carbon credit market with a quota to avoid flooding the market.

Even a small quota of 10 per cent would generate more resources than any other international financing mechanism for tropical forest conservation and poverty.

Finally to ensure appropriate benefit sharing for indigenous peoples and local communities, REDD funding should use instruments such as certification and validation.

As a relatively new alternative method for reducing emissions, REDD is now much in the spotlight, and is expected to feature prominently at the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December in Copenhagen, where the post-Kyoto regime is due to be designed.