Relying on forest plantations to store carbon pollution fromthe atmosphere and combat climate change could accelerate the destructionof old-growth native forest around the world, according to a reportcommissioned by Greenpeace and WWF, the conservation organization. Thereport, released today, challenges the assumption that carbon storage intrees will yield environmental benefits. It concludes instead, "theeconomics of the developing carbon sequestration market is becoming anadditional driver for clearing native forests."
Whether industrialised nations will be allowed to gamble on forests astemporary carbon stores rather than reduce emissions of global warminggases at source is one of the most controversial topics in two weeks ofintergovernmental negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol that open in TheHague, Holland, on Monday 13 November. Under the Protocol, industrializednations have to reduce their emissions 5 per cent below their 1990 levelsby 2008-2012. The United States, Japan, Australia and Canada want to avoiddomestic efforts to control their rapidly growing carbon emissions fromenergy use by counting forest carbon storage and so claim to be meetingtheir Kyoto targets. Furthermore, the Protocol contains a perverseincentive in allowing countries to claim a carbon credit for planting treesbut not incur a carbon debit for deforestation.
Today's report, entitled "The Clearcut Case: How the Kyoto Protocol CouldBecome a Driver for Deforestation", examines a number of Australianprojects as case studies of what could emerge as a dangerous newinternational threat to forests and the species they support.
The report outlines how Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan'slargest power utility, is implicated in the destruction of native forest inthe Tamar Valley in the Australian state of Tasmania, and its replacementby fast-growing eucalyptus plantations intended for carbon credits underthe Kyoto Protocol. TEPCO's investment of Aus$10 million (ca. US$5 million)in Tamar Tree Farms accounts for 3,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantationwhich are expected to yield TEPCO 130,000 tonnes of carbon credits thatcould be offset against rising carbon emissions in Japan. The report showshow this project is not an isolated incident but is compatible with theforest-clearance programmes of the Australian and Tasmanian authorities.
"Claiming credit for carbon stored in trees is a blatant attempt by somecountries to cheat on their Kyoto commitments," said Bill Hare,Greenpeace's Climate Policy Director. "This report shows that it is alsobad for the environment, leading in some cases to the destruction ofold-growth forest to make way for 'carbon-sink' plantations."
"The only way to combat climate change is through deep cuts in emissions ofglobal warming gases," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's ClimateChange Campaign. "The Tasmania project is an example of what could goterribly wrong for forests around the world if Japan, Australia, Canada andthe United States get their way. We could see native forest destructionaccelerate but still see no benefit for the global climate. This ispotentially the largest of a number of loopholes in the Kyoto climatetreaty that governments urgently need to close."
The threat to forest conservation will be exacerbated if decisions onKyoto's "Clean Development Mechanism" promote 'carbon sinks' projects byindustrialised nations in developing countries, where gathering of accuratedata on forests would be considerably more difficult than in Tasmania.
Greenpeace and WWF are calling on the 184 Parties to the Climate Conventionto exclude reliance on carbon sinks from the Kyoto Protocol, and from itsClean Development Mechanism. The organizations want industrialized nationsto achieve their Kyoto commitments through domestic reductions in globalwarming gases.
"The global forest commons is facing its biggest challenge since theIndustrial Revolution," said report author Tim Cadman of the Native ForestNetwork. "Many forest-dependent species are on the brink of destruction.How ironic it would be if the Kyoto Protocol were complicit in sending someof them over the edge."
Proposals for relying on plantations to soak up carbon overlook thevulnerability of forests to global warming, and the urgency of cuttingemissions. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changewhose Second Assessment Report from 1995 is the current internationalscientific consensus on climate change, one third of the world's forestswill undergo major changes as a result of global warming. Entire foresttypes may disappear and large amounts of carbon could be released into theatmosphere during transitions from one forest type to another.
Written by: Greenpeace
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