Singapore can help with scheme to reward developing nations for preserving carbon sinks

Go Redd to save the forests
Nicolas Groffman & Swapan Mehra, Strait Times 28 Mar 09;

AS THE world marks Earth Hour today, it is time to reflect on a great opportunity for Singapore to help protect the region's forests.

The forestry sector contributes 17.4 per cent of all greenhouse gases from human activities, according to estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The bulk of this comes from deforestation and forest degradation.

Every year, plants helpfully extract 120 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while humans and other animals breathe out or burn off slightly less than 120 billion tonnes into the atmosphere.

Hence, in addition to being a major source of carbon - deforestation, fires and general decay all lead to the release of carbon in the atmosphere - forests are also a major carbon sink to absorb harmful greenhouse gases. They also play a pivotal role in the carbon cycle which helps sustain life.

Natural forests, because of their species mix and high biodiversity, are more stable carbon sinks.

The Australian National University estimates that they hold up to 60 per cent more carbon than planted forests.

They deliver other benefits as well, such as managing drainage and erosion, and controlling micro-climatic variables such as light intensity, temperature, humidity and wind speed.

Hence, there is an urgent need to preserve natural forests.

It is also clear now that without addressing the economic needs of large populations in countries that are dependent on forests for a living, saving these forests is impossible.

To this end, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has established its Collaborative Programme On Reducing Emissions From Deforestation And Forest Degradation In Developing Countries (Redd).

Redd intends to reward developing countries with financial benefits in return for conservation.

It is a major part of the comprehensive Bali Action Plan laid out by the UNFCCC in its 2007 Conference of Parties. The Bali Action Plan lays the groundwork for achieving a global climate change treaty before the end of the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

A UN-led conference in the Danish capital of Copenhagen in December is meant to approve a new global warming treaty for the period after 2012.

For Redd, it is essential to have reliable baselines against which changes in carbon stocks can be gauged, so that we can work out how to reward or penalise participants in Redd schemes.

Two kinds of baselines are needed: the current stock of carbon stored in forests; and the natural carbon-carrying capacity of a forest (the amount of carbon that can be stored in a forest in the absence of human land use).

Singapore is arguably more affected by climate change, because forest fires in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have more immediate effects on the Republic.

The ensuing episodes of haze have led Singapore to collaborate with these nations in fighting deforestation.

For example, it is working closely with the Indonesian province of Jambi to encourage sustainable forest management.

Redd could be a tool to reward these practices.

Indonesia has already drafted rules that govern the use of carbon credits to protect its rainforests, with more than 20 forest projects in various stages of development.

Carbon credits are sold to companies and individuals who pay to lower their carbon footprint. They can be exchanged between businesses or bought and sold in international markets, and are used to finance carbon reduction schemes.

The Indonesia Forest Climate Alliance estimates that Redd revenues will probably exceed US$500 million (S$754 million) annually.

However, the rules on how to share revenue from forest-carbon projects or how to link the various levels of government have yet to be finalised.

At present, these projects are conducted by the voluntary carbon market.

Resulting carbon offsets are priced between US$4 and US$10 but, after 2012, Redd credits could be used to expand this market, and under UNFCCC regulations prices could be higher.

This requires more detailed procedures and extensive monitoring to validate the authenticity of credits.

Singapore can help in the research and development of these monitoring methodologies and in capacity development in neighbouring nations to implement Redd projects.

It can also act as a regional trading hub to commercialise the resulting credits in the global carbon markets.

Revenue-sharing with locals must be a key ingredient of any successful Redd scheme.

Unless the local populace is rewarded monetarily for protecting forests, the long-term sustainability of Redd will always be in question.

Singapore can assist in establishing a financial framework for transparent management for revenue-sharing and fast disbursement.

Redd can act as a potential tool for avoiding forest fires, fire degradation and conserving biodiversity in the region.

Singapore, with its intellectual and financial capital, can play a leading role in developing the mechanism and implementing it.

Mr Groffman is a lawyer who advises on renewable energy projects, carbon trading and environmental law, and Mr Mehra is a carbon forestry specialist. They are working actively on various carbon mitigation projects and were in Singapore last week to share their knowledge on carbon markets in the region.