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UN Launches Project to “Unlock Carbon Markets” for Farmers, Foresters, Conservationists

tree planting in Mexico The United Nations Environment Programme, the World Agroforestry Centre and other partners on May 11 launched the Carbon Benefits Project, an initiative that aims to ‘unlock the multi-billion dollar carbon markets for millions of farmers, foresters and conservationists across the developing world.”

UNEP, the UN’s FAO and UNDP are working with nine developing nations in preparation for including REDD–Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation–in the successor to the Kyoto Protocol that is expected to be hashed out during the upcoming Conference of Parties ion Copenhagen this December.

China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Papua New Guinea are among the participants. The project is being funded through the Global Environment Facility, which is being managed by the World Bank.

*Photo courtesy of UNEP

Spreading the Wealth

Deforestation accounts for some 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked with the warming climate. That’s more than that spewing from all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined, UNEP noted in a media release.

Foresters, farmers, ranchers, conservationists and forestry and agriculture researchers in the US and elsewhere around the world are lobbying government representatives to build soil and forest carbon incentives into national and international climate change mitigation and adaptation programs. These include climate change legislation now being considered in by the US Congress, as well as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

Though long overdue, it’s a good idea that should be pursued aggressively. Boosting carbon uptake in soils and forests offers several other significant benefits in line with UN Millennium Development Goals. Besides the potentially very real and substantial amounts of carbon that could be soaked up such programs, if designed well and carried out properly, could provide gainful local employment, enhance food security and biodiversity, help control flooding, drought and erosion, and reduce fossil fuel use.

Just Because It’s Worth Doing…

Unfortunately, the breadth, diversity and small-scale of such projects and forestry and agriculture in general argues against much actually being done. These aren’t the type of big money, capital, technology and R&D-intensive projects that attract the larger international aid agencies, financial institutions, venture capital or other prominent investment groups.

It’s not that they are not valuable in any number of ways. It’s just that they don’t provide the returns or require the very large sums that these industrialized-world organizations have come to thrive on. Still, the fact remains that a lot of good can be done with existing and relatively simple, appropriate technology given the necessary political will, consensus building, effective oversight and the right mix of financial incentives and assessment of environmental costs and benefits.

Some estimates indicate that a country like Indonesia could earn $1 billion a year if it manages to reduce its rate of deforestation by one million hectares annually, with revenues calculated on the basis of the price per metric ton on the carbon markets at the time.

“If REDD is agreed as part of a post-2012 climate regime, this could open the door to carbon storage payments for other kinds of nature-based management covering ‘ecosystems’ such as grasslands, pasture lands, peatlands and mangroves,” according to UNEP.

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