Tsunami-Blocking Mangroves Lure Carbon Investors: Southeast Asia

Neil Chatterjee Bloomberg BusinessWeek 19 Nov 13;

Replanted mangrove trees in Southeast Asia are getting credit for protecting against deadly tsunamis and typhoons such as Haiyan in the Philippines and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Mangrove regeneration in Northern Samar, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the worst-hit Philippine city of Tacloban, helped minimize damage from the Nov. 8 storm, according to the Trowel Development Foundation, which oversaw the plantings. On Indonesia’s Sumatra island, where a 2004 tsunami killed 170,000 residents, companies including Danone and Credit Agricole SA (ACA) have put up about $4 million in exchange for tradable carbon offsets tied to the reforestation.

Mangrove trees have twisted webs of roots that absorb carbon dioxide linked to climate change and help protect coasts from tidal surges such as the one that killed at least 3,900 people when Typhoon Haiyan swamped the Philippines this month. The storm, one of the strongest to make landfall, has gripped UN climate talks in Warsaw this week, with a Philippine delegate tearfully calling for action to slow climate change.

“Had we not protected the mangrove trees against illegal cutting and had we not planted the areas surrounding the fish farms with native mangrove species, the super typhoon would have destroyed everything that the poor fisherfolks established,” Leonardo Rosario, a development consultant on the Northern Samar project, said by e-mail on Nov. 19.

The devastation in Tacloban was aggravated because it is near open seas with no mangroves to provide a buffer, he said. “So the super typhoon hit the land with its strongest might and high speed because there is no mangrove forest that should have slowed it down,” he said. “I hope the government would now realize the import of mangrove forests in protecting people, structures and livelihoods in the coastal areas.”

‘Very Much Degraded’
Mangroves in the Philippines have been lost at a rate of about 1 percent a year, with conditions “very much degraded,” Daniel Murdiyarso, a forestry scientist at the Bogor, Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research, said Nov. 18.

Mangroves, found on marine coasts and estuaries, may help low-lying coasts adapt to rising sea levels by increasing sedimentation, he said.

The trees have adapted to changing water levels by growing roots several feet above ground. They can help reduce the height and power of waves generated by storms, according to a Cambridge University report published in 2012 by The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International.

2004 Tsunami
A study in the wake of the 2004 tsunami off Aceh, Indonesia, which killed 220,000 people living near the Indian Ocean, showed that 30 coastal trees per 100 square meters may reduce the flow of a tsunami by 90 percent, according to a 2005 report in the journal Science.

The Aceh project by the Medan-based conservation group Yagasu involves restoring 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) on the northern coast of Sumatra. The program will help develop a methodology for a program letting Indonesian companies buy credits to voluntarily offset their greenhouse gas emissions, said Bambang Suprayogi, Yagasu’s founder, in a Nov. 18 interview.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leaves office next year, pledged in 2009 to reduce Indonesia’s emissions by 26 percent at the end of the decade. Deforestation is the main cause of emissions from Indonesia, named by the World Bank as the third-largest emitter on earth in a 2007 report.

Warsaw Talks
Indonesia and the Philippines are among about 200 nations meeting in Warsaw this week for climate talks. Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, doesn’t have an obligation under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which envisioned that developing countries would host emission-reduction projects to generate offsets against pollution limits in richer nations.

The U.S. never signed the treaty, while Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand have opted against extending their commitments to Kyoto. The UN has yet spell out how credits from reforestation can be recognized.

Yagasu hopes to save 9 million tons of carbon dioxide over the Aceh project’s 20-year timeframe, Suprayogi said. While it has applied for UN validation, he expects most of the credits to be sold under a voluntary emission program to avoid the length and uncertainty of the UN approval process.

While Indonesia has 141 UN-approved projects designed to cut 249 million metric tons of emissions, the nation is designing its own program and methodology, Agus Purnomo, a presidential adviser for climate change, said in Jakarta on Nov. 14. The domestic plan would rely on companies voluntarily buying offsets, he said.