Realistic Estimate of Forest Conservation for Climate Mitigation

What is a realistic worldwide assessment of avoided emissions that could be realized under the CDM via tropical forest conservation? As noted previously, some groups raised the concern that including tropical forest protection in the Kyoto Protocol would swamp out other more important activities, such as fossil fuel emission reductions in developed countries. For example, Greenpeace suggested that 300 million tons of carbon via forest conservation could enter the "carbon market," which would lower the total cost of mitigation and prevent other emission reductions. Greenpeace remarked in a widely distributed paper that "the introduction of this amount (300 million tons) of very cheap projects in the CDM equation will drastically reduce the amount of money and technology transferred to developing countries, remove the incentive to develop less carbon intensive technologies in developing countries and allow industrialized countries to increase their emission close to business as usual."78 A WWF briefing paper (which had several math errors but was circulated widely at negotiations) pointed out that forest conservation in the Amazon would allow industrialized countries to emit "in each of the five years of the commitment period more than 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."79 Let's take a close look at the reality in many countries to see whether these are realistic concerns. The answer will help inform the question of whether forest conservation in the treaty would "drastically reduce the amount of money and technology" available for other important efforts.

To estimate a realistic amount of forest conservation possible,80 the following formula is used:

Rate of annual deforestation X Carbon emissions per hectare X Percentage of emission addressed X Percentage of attempted reductions that are successful in the long term = Potential carbon offset by forest conservation

Given a certain rate of deforestation in a country and associated carbon emissions, only a fraction of this deforestation can be stopped. There is limited institutional capacity, estimated in a prior study, for countries to arrest deforestation. Furthermore, of the measures taken to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, only a portion will succeed in the long term. The history of development projects, and most entrepreneurial efforts in general, is one of high project failure rates. Historical data of project success rates, by country, from prior World Bank projects were used to approximate the likelihood of projects succeeding in the long term. Other estimates could be used and would yield different findings, so the results in Table 13.3 are a rough approximation. These represent the carbon credits from avoided deforestation that could realistically be claimed if there are reasonable verification and monitoring requirements.81

Given these assumptions and methods, approximately 40 million t C per year might be prevented from entering the atmosphere via forest conservation in the CDM. This is less than 0.5 percent of the estimated 8 billion tons of human-caused carbon emissions and about 5 percent of the approximate 800 million t C

TABLE 13.3. Estimated Plausible Annual Reductions of Carbon Emissions via

Tropical Forest Conservation

Percentage

Annual

Carbon

of Attempted

Host

Emissions from

Percentage

Reductions

Estimated

Country

Deforestation

of Emissions

Successful in the

Emission

Income at

Country

(t C/yr)

Addressed*

Long Term f

Reductions (t C)

$15/t Cf

Angola

8,650,500

5%

10%

43,253

$648,788

Bolivia

66,815,000

10%

53%

3,529,785

$52,946,776

Brazil

347,575,293

10%

36%

12,651,741

$189,776,110

Cambodia

18,122,000

5%

10%

90,610

$1,359,150

Cameroon

13,996,500

10%

43%

603,110

$9,046,652

Central African 12,800,000

10%

10%

128,000

$1,920,000

Republic (CAR)

Colombia

26,200,000

10%

27%

710,102

$10,651,528

Congo (DR)

127,280,000

5%

10%

636,400

$9,546,000

Ecuador

17,199,000

20%

43%

1,482,212

$22,233,182

Indonesia

142,004,000

10%

47%

6,710,958

$100,664,370

Madagascar

12,740,000

10%

10%

127,400

$1,911,000

Malaysia

46,200,000

10%

80%

3,697,752

$55,466,276

Mexico

42,333,333

5%

60%

1,269,264

$19,038,966

Myanmar

44,698,300

5%

43%

963,031

$14,445,460

Nicaragua

17,742,300

5%

10%

88,713

$1,330,688

Nigeria

2,964,300

10%

10%

29,645

$444,675

Papua New

14,896,000

5%

43%

320,935

$4,814,022

Guinea

Paraguay

32,700,000

20%

10%

654,000

$9,810,000

Peru

20,832,000

5%

57%

591,052

$8,865,779

Philippines

22,932,000

10%

41%

942,472

$14,137,075

Tanzania

7,267,300

10%

38%

274,183

$4,112,744

Thailand

30,432,300

10%

72%

2,191,795

$32,876,932

Venezuela

30,300,000

10%

43%

2,167,430

$32,511,455

Vietnam

17,683,000

5%

43%

381,024

$5,715,359

Zambia

6,204,000

10%

10%

61,420

$921,294

Total

1,130,340,126

40,346,287

$605,194,305

*This is an estimate of the percentage of deforestation that could be addressed under a policy similar to the CDM. In countries where there was no estimate or the estimate was less than 5%, a rate of 5% was used. These data were modified from M. Trexler and C. Haugen, 1995: Keeping It Green (Washington, DC: WRI & EPA).

fThis estimates the percentage of emissions addressed that could be certified as long-term reductions. This estimate was derived by multiplying the percentage of World Bank projects in a country that were evaluated as successful by the percentage of projects in a country judged sustainable. Globally averaged, this may be a reasonable approximation of the likelihood that complex, multi-institutional forest conservation projects can produce real, measurable long-term emission reductions. However, for any specific country, these estimates should be regarded with skepticism. In calculations where a nation's estimate was less than 10% or not available, a rate of 10% was used. This material comes from World Bank, 1999: 1999 Annual Review of Development Effectiveness: Toward a Comprehensive Development Strategy (Washington, DC: World Bank), Table 16.

fThis is equivalent to a price of $4/ton of COy These represent undiscounted revenue streams.

of annual reduction commitments by Annex I countries under the protocol.82 At a price of $15/t C these avoided emissions would generate an estimated $605 million annually for these countries, ranging from less than half a million dollars for Nigeria to almost $200 million for Brazil. Although the money is substantial for some countries, this level of mitigation will not swamp the market and prevent other important emission reduction activities. Furthermore, this estimate does not account for additional constraints to forest conservation projects initiated with carbon financing. Some countries may not find willing investors for forestry projects. Two of the three countries with the highest rates of deforestation face particular challenges (Indonesia is undergoing a difficult political transition, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has several countries' troops within its borders). The country with the highest rate of deforestation, Brazil, has repeatedly made clear that it is not going to embrace forest conservation projects within its borders.83 Thus, the top three countries in terms of gross deforestation probably will not be amenable to significant forest protection projects within their borders.

Politics, Politics, Politics

At the COP6b negotiations, forest conservation was deliberately excluded from major funding via the Kyoto Protocol and the CDM. How did this come about? How were roughly 20 percent of worldwide GHG emissions excluded from a climate change treaty? The "forest conservation in the CDM" debate was one of the top remaining points of disagreement between key negotiating blocs when the talks were called off at COP6, before the withdrawal of the United States from the Kyoto process. The discussion reached the highest levels of government.

Three key interest groups opposed to forest conservation in the CDM largely shaped this outcome: Brazil, the EU and, ironically, some environmental groups such as WWF, Greenpeace, and parts of the Climate Action Network (CAN). Other interest groups, such as the United States and its negotiating allies (the Umbrella group), most Latin American countries, some African countries, and other environmental groups lobbied to have forest conservation included. Other groups and nations lined up on either side of the debate, but here I focus on Brazil, the EU, and the environmental groups opposed to forest conservation, whom ultimately prevailed.

Brazil

Brazil's negotiator at the talks, Dr. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho, is a powerful speaker with a command of the technical aspects of climate change. He is also an influential negotiator and was the principal voice in backroom negotiations opposing forest conservation in the CDM. Brazil was adamantly opposed to forest conservation being part of the Kyoto Protocol and the CDM. There are several explanations for the Brazilian position. First, it seems Brazil had serious concerns about the technical aspects of forest conservation and emphasized the fact that forest protection can never be permanent.84 Brazil's position may also be based on the question of national sovereignty: Projects that seek to maintain forests in the Amazon could be an encroachment on the right of Brazil to determine its use of the Amazon. Brazil currently has large plans for the Amazon, including Advance Brazil, a national development strategy that calls for up to $40 billion in new roads, hydroelectric power, railroads, and housing in the Amazon.85 If completed, Advance Brazil would deforest large areas of the Amazon, resulting in billions of tons of carbon emissions. Clearly, efforts supported by the international community to conserve tropical forests would impede Advance Brazil. A final reason is that Brazil is already the largest emitter of carbon dioxide from deforestation in the world. Brazil may have wanted to set a precedent that tropical deforestation emissions would not be part of the global climate change regime.

Brazil was an influential member in the G77 negotiating bloc and was able to predispose the developing nation bloc to oppose (or at least not support efforts to include) forest conservation in the CDM. After the political agreement at COP6b was reached excluding forest conservation from the first commitment period, Brazil tried to remove any language that would have allowed the issue to be reconsidered for subsequent commitment periods. Although this effort was ultimately blocked, it suggests that Brazil is strongly opposed to forest conservation becoming a part of the climate change regime. As one scientist who followed Brazil's position stated, trying to convince the government otherwise is like "giving a blood transfusion to a cadaver."86

Brazil's official position does not necessarily reflect the entire Brazilian voice. One statement released during the negotiations and signed by 13 Brazilian institutions and other individuals commented,

[We] understand that official Brazilian representatives in the negotiations have played an important role in overcoming impasses and convincing the principal historical source of emissions to accept their responsibility before the international community. Brazil was the author of the proposal that led to the incorporation of the CDM into the Protocol. But for the government to oppose including forest conservation projects in the CDM is not coherent with the gains it has achieved. . . . We expect that, should negotiations move for ward on issues surrounding the implementation of the flexibility mechanisms, the Brazilian official position will allow the implementation in the CDM of projects in native forests, insofar as these comply with the principles of additionality, transparency, control of leakage, verifiability of results and such other rules and controls as may yet be determined.87

One of the institutions behind this letter was the National Council of Rubber Tappers of Brazil, an organization founded by Chico Mendes in 1985 with more than 270 local member organizations. Other indigenous and environmental groups within Brazil took various positions in favor of, or against, forest conservation programs in the Protocol.

Europe

The EU's position was that forestry activities, domestic or abroad, would not be a priority for meeting its Kyoto target.88 The EU probably felt that the United States and other "umbrella" nations were trying to dilute the Kyoto Protocol with accounting loopholes. In a large sense, the EU held a stand it believed was principled, namely that most emission reductions in the protocol should occur as fossil fuel emission reductions in developed nations. The European nations had a few advantages in the protocol, such as free trading within the EU, serious cutbacks in coal use in the United Kingdom because of prior policies, and a collapsed East German economy leading to serious drops in emissions. Although it appears that there was some division on the issue within the EU, for the most part Europe united behind opposing forest conservation in the CDM.

Europe's position was buttressed by scientific information coming from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, the primary UK government climate science office. The Hadley Centre research on the issue of tropical forests used in negotiations was dominated by studies that concluded that forest mitigation was suspect for a variety of reasons (including albedo impacts in northern forests and the potential for die-offs of Amazonian forests by the end of this century). The EU government also listened carefully to what some environmental groups were saying on the issue.

Greenpeace, WWF, and CAN

The most vocal opposition to including forest conservation in the CDM came from an alliance of key environmental groups, largely headed by Greenpeace, the WWF, and members of the CAN. These groups were generally opposed to any measure that would reduce incentives for fossil fuel reductions.89 For a long time, staff members of these groups did not publicly differentiate between forest activities that were sinks (plantations) and forest activities that were emission reductions (forest conservation). Whether this was a misunderstanding of carbon dynamics or a political strategy (plantations are widely seen as environmentally regressive in the negotiating atmosphere) remains uncertain. As of May 2002, the WWF climate change Web page did not acknowledge that tropical deforestation is even part of the cause of climate change. On their Web page under "Where Does CO2 Come From" there is no mention of tropical defor-estation.90 And in the "Solutions" part of their Web page, conserving tropical forests is not mentioned.91 This is certainly odd given that behind fossil fuel combustion, tropical deforestation is the leading cause of CO2 emissions. It is especially odd given that WWF often tries to raise money for forest conservation programs in developing countries.

Greenpeace was a leading opponent to forest conservation in the CDM. It released dozens of statements, analyses, and reports that consistently showed how forest conservation could not work, and if it did, it would wipe out a majority of more important (in Greenpeace's view) emission reductions. In one report, Greenpeace asserted that forest projects in the CDM would have "no net benefits" for climate protection.92 The rationale behind their arguments is difficult to ascertain, but it is clear that they believed the technical obstacles to long-term sustainable forestry in the protocol were insurmountable. This is not to say they were not acting in the interests of the global environment; they had a savvy political team that helped safeguard many important environmental components of the Kyoto Protocol. By and large, Greenpeace and other groups saw tropical forest conservation as another way for the wealthy countries that caused the bulk of the GHG problem to avoid concrete domestic steps or steps to reduce fossil fuel reliance. Greenpeace, more than any other environmental group, was able to pass on key information and positions to the European negotiators. For instance, at a critical early-morning moment on one of the last days of COP6, Greenpeace and WWF provided key analyses that helped persuade the EU to reject the American offer on domestic U.S. forestry proposals.

Other environmental groups (Environmental Defense, the Nature Conservancy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists) supported tropical forest measures during the negotiations. Some groups, such as the Sierra Club and the World Resources Institute, did not take particularly strong positions either way.

Although other players were obviously critical, these three constituencies were the driving force behind keeping tropical forest conservation out of the Bonn agreement on the Kyoto Protocol.

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