News Release
Public release date: 13-Aug-2007

Conservation International

New study warns limited carbon market puts 20 percent of tropical
forest at risk
Preventive credits needed for incentive to protect vital carbon sinks

Arlington, Virginia – In an ironic twist, 11 countries that have
avoided widespread destruction of their tropical forest are at risk
of being left out of an emerging carbon market intended to promote
rainforest conservation to combat climate change.

A study published Tuesday in the Public Library of Science Biology
journal warns that the “high forest cover with low rates of
deforestation” (HFLD) nations could become the most vulnerable
targets for deforestation if the Kyoto Protocol and upcoming
negotiations on carbon trading fail to include intact standing forest.

The study by scientists from Conservation International (CI), the
South African National Biodiversity Institute, and the University of
California-Santa Barbara calls for the HFLD countries to receive
“preventive credits” under any carbon trading mechanism to provide
incentive for them to protect their intact tropical forest.
Otherwise, the same market and economic forces that cause
deforestation elsewhere will quickly descend on regions that so far
have avoided significant loss, the authors say.

Cutting and burning tropical forests releases the atmospheric carbon
they store, contributing significantly to global climate change. The
HFLD countries contain 20 percent of Earth’s remaining tropical
forest, including some of the richest ecosystems.

“Given the very large – and likely still underestimated – role of
tropical deforestation in causing climate change, these forest-rich
countries should be at the forefront of worldwide efforts to
sequester carbon, rather than being left out entirely,” said CI
President Russell A. Mittermeier, an author of the study. “With this
paper, we hope to highlight this critical issue and put it on the
table for future negotiations.”

Until now, the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent discussions have focused
on carbon credits for new or replanted forests that replace the
carbon storage services of destroyed forests. New rules being
discussed by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change for
implementation subsequent to Kyoto are likely to create a carbon
market for countries that reduce their deforestation from levels of
recent years.

That would cover countries that have lost large portions of their
original tropical forest, as well as those that still have more than
half their forest cover but face current high rates of deforestation.
In contrast, 11 HFLD countries with more than half their original
forest intact and low rates of current deforestation would receive no
credits for standing forests.

“The minute that you exclude those countries, their forests lose
economic value in the global carbon market, leaving governments with
little reason to protect them,” said study co-author Gustavo Fonseca
of CI and Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

The HFLD countries are Panama, Colombia, Democratic Republic of
Congo, Peru, Belize, Gabon, Guyana, Suriname, Bhutan and Zambia,
along with French Guiana, which is a French territory. Three of them
– Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – comprise much of the Guayana
Shield region of the northern Amazon that is the largest intact tract
of tropical forest on Earth. In addition, portions of other large
non-HFLD countries are in the same situation. For example, although
Brazil has four other major ecosystems, the Brazilian Amazon faces a
similar circumstance as HFLD countries.

According to the study, preventive credits for HFLD countries at a
conservative carbon price of U.S. $10 per ton would be worth hundreds
of millions of dollars a year, providing governments with significant
economic incentive to protect tropical forests that store atmospheric
carbon and supply essential natural benefits for local populations
such as clean water, food, medicines and natural resources.

CI believes any carbon credit mechanism should include full
representation, participation and consultation by indigenous and
local communities of tropical forest regions to ensure that
conservation and development programs proceed in accordance with
their rights and traditional ways of life as stewards of the crucial
ecosystems in which they live.

Along with Fonseca and Mittermeier, the study’s other authors are
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez and Lee Hannah of CI, Guy Midgley of the
Kirstenbosch Research Center at the South African National
Biodiversity Institute, and Jonah Busch of the Donald Bren School of
Environmental Science and Management at UC-Santa Barbara.

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