Five environmental trust funds in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have joined with Columbia University’s Center for Environment, Economy, and Society to establish the Amazon Forest Carbon Partnership, a collaboration to reduce carbon emissions and provide an economic alternative for forest dwelling communities and commercial enterprises in the Amazon. The issue of forest carbon credit, in which wealthy countries offset their emissions by compensating land holders for preserving forests, was a core point of negotiations at the global climate summit in Copenhagen.
Worldwide, more than 12 million hectares of tropical forest—roughly the size of Pennsylvania—are cleared every year. Forests act as carbon sinks by storing carbon dioxide. According to experts, deforestation is responsible for 12 to 15 percent of global annual CO2 emissions. If the rate of tropical deforestation continues, the resulting emissions have the potential to single-handedly negate all the emissions reductions gained by adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to combat global warming. Forest-based carbon credit is being considered as a way for countries, companies and individuals to offset their emissions by preventing deforestation and the release of stored carbon dioxide.
Thanks in part to a $3 million grant from Cargill, the Amazon Forest Carbon Partnership (AFCP) is working to develop and implement the practical means for bringing tropical forest carbon credits to market.
The primary goal of the AFCP is to ensure that the necessary elements are in place to generate carbon credits for avoided deforestation in the Amazon. Such credits are based on what is known as reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, or REDD, and are included in proposed U.S. legislation on energy security under the Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer Bills.
There is criticism of using forests as a carbon offset mechanism, primarily due to the lack of effective monitoring to ensure that logging elsewhere is not negating saved forests. Another criticism is that forests could be cleared once substantial payments for the offset have been made. Additionally, these agreements will not benefit the communities that have traditionally held rights over the lands in question. The failure to deal equitably with local owners is viewed as a threat to permanence, since the local owners would have no incentives to protect the forests.
As part of the AFCP, the Center for Environment, Economy, and Society, or CEES, has organized technical experts to advise on all aspects of the effort, including the development of a platinum standard to validate, verify and monitor carbon credits generated from avoided deforestation activities and to develop the curriculum to train individuals for implementation. Once the platinum standard is created and experts are trained to apply the standard, it will be essential to develop an institutional structure to ensure that the standard is properly applied. The AFCP will lay the groundwork for the creation of such a structure.
CEES and each of the five environmental trust funds, or ETFs, which serve as stewards of conservation and protection in their countries, will work with corporate, individual, community and indigenous forest holders on the supply side, and corporations, traders and private equity investors on the demand side.
Currently, the Kyoto Protocol excludes carbon emissions credits from avoided deforestation, when a forest is completely and permanently cleared, and degradation, when it is damaged by burning, pollution or excessive removal of flora and fauna. If the successor to the Kyoto Protocol allows for REDD, then forest carbon can be monetized, and emissions reductions from avoided deforestation can be traded in carbon markets. If REDD is not included in an international agreement, it is likely to still be included in domestic legislation of the U.S. and other nations.
“The AFCP’s efforts are aimed at getting all aspects of REDD projects ready for implementation on the ground, in anticipation of accepted legislation and bilateral agreements,” said Don Melnick, director of CEES and Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. “The AFCP will then be ready to help forest holders generate credits and get them to market.”
Organizations involved in the Amazon Forest Carbon Partnership expect to begin rolling out their plan in the summer of 2010 and to complete the initiative in 2011.
The South American ETF partners include: Bolivia’s PUMA (Fundación Protección y Uso Sostenible del Medio Ambiente or Foundation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Environment), Brazil’s Funbio (Fundo Brasileiro para a Biodiversidade or Brazilian Fund for Biodiversity), Colombia’s Fondo para la Acción Ambiental y la Niñez (or Fund for Environmental Action and Childhood), Ecuador’s FAN (Fondo Ambiental Nacional or National Environmental Fund), and Peru’s PROFONANPE (Fondo de Promoción para las Areas Naturales Protegidas del Perú or Peruvian Trust Fund for National Parks and Protected Areas).
The Amazon Forest Carbon Partnership is supported technically by a group of experts from Columbia, Duke and Stanford Universities, as well as Covington & Burling, an international law firm with specific expertise in U.S. and international carbon emissions policy.