In a perspective piece published in this week's Science magazine, Environmental Defense scientists said that the creation of an international forest carbon market as part of the Kyoto Protocol's international effort to control climate change could create a powerful incentive for developing nations to protect the world's great forests, such as the Amazon in Brazil.
International negotiators currently are considering whether to include forest conservation as an eligible greenhouse gas reducing activity under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on climate change. As they grow, forests absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that contributes to global warming. Deforestation results in emissions of carbon dioxide and other GHGs. Scientists estimate that tropical deforestation is responsible for approximately 15 to 30 percent of human induced GHG emissions.
"International negotiators should see this new information on carbon and climate as an opportunity to alter the way the global markets value forests," said Environmental Defense economist, Robert Bonnie, a co-author of the piece. "In the past, forests have usually only been assigned economic value if they were cut down, either for wood or to clear land for other uses. Including forest conservation in the Kyoto Protocol will make it easier to protect our planet's dwindling forests and slow climate change."
In response to global efforts to address climate change, a market has begun to emerge for preserving forests as a way to store carbon and thereby prevent GHG emissions. For example, American Electric Power, PacifiCorp, and BP-Amoco have invested nearly $10 million to protect 600,000 hectares of forestland in Bolivia. International negotiators have not yet decided whether investments in forest conservation will be recognized under the Kyoto Protocol.
"While reductions in domestic fossil fuel use must be the focus of policies to slow climate change, forest conservation can supplement these reductions," said Environmental Defense chief scientist Michael Oppenheimer.
"An environmentally and economically sound forest preservation market must have an accounting system with clear rules that will ensure additional trees are actually conserved and that logging is not simply shifted from one area to another," Bonnie said. "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report on land use change by the world's leading experts on carbon sequestration, released in May, suggests that mechanisms can be developed to ensure the integrity of carbon credits generated through forest conservation."