Indonesia ‘failing on pledge to reduce forest fires’


The Indonesian government failed to live up to its promises to reduce fires across the tropical nation last year, reports Mongabay.com.Take Cover library picture

It quotes The Jakarta Post as saying that the nation’s 2009 State Environment Report revealed a 59% increase in the number of fire hotspots from 19,192 in 2008 to 32,416 last year.

Officials are reported as saying that land clearing was the primary cause because, unlike temperature forests, intact rainforests rarely burn naturally.

“Illegal land clearing with fires by local people in Kalimantan and Sumatra is still rampant,” Heddy Mukna, deputy assistant for forest and land management at the Environment Ministry told the Post.

The state of Kalimantan on the island of Borneo saw fires triple in some areas from 2008 to 2009.

Haze blanketed much of the island last year during the “burning season”.

In 2007, the Indonesian government announced plan to cut forest fires in half to mitigate climate change from 35,279 fires in 2006.

The government has since revised that reduction from 50% to just 20%.

Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world behind China and the US.

An estimated 80% of the nation’s 2.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is from rainforest and peatland destruction.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 13/06/2010

Brazil sees fall in deforestation rate


Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to 291 square miles (754 square kilometres) between November 2008 and January 2009, reports Mongabay.com.

This was a drop of 70% when compared to the same period 12 months earlier, said Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

A decrease in forest clearing had been expected.

Economic turmoil, which has reduced the availability of credit, and collapsing commodity prices (especially beef and soy) had undermined the main drivers of deforestation.

Mr Minc also credited government efforts, including increased vigilance and new loan policies, for the decline.

The data is based on Brazil’s Real-time Detection of Deforestation (DETER) system for tracking deforestation.

DETER is an alert system that updates IBAMA (Brazil’s environmental protection agency) with deforestation information, theoretically allowing authorities to attack illegal deforestation as it occurs.

However, the system requires on-the-ground follow up action, something that is difficult consider the poor land titling and political conflict between federal and regional authorities.

However, Brazil is developing an advanced satellite, which is called Amazon-1, that will use cloud-penetrating technology to allow more detailed monitoring of the Amazon.

Nearly 20% of the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for about 60% of the world’s largest rainforest, has been destroyed since the early 1970s, but deforestation has slowed significantly since 2004.

Last year, the Brazilian government announced an ambitious plan to cut deforestation rates to 5,600 square kilometres (2150 sq mi) per year by 2014 in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Deforestation presently accounts for two-thirds of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 04/03/2009

Deforestation in Vietnam continues to rise


Deforestation has increased by 55% during the past year in Vietnam’s Dak Nong province, reports the Vietnam News Agency.

A report in Mongabay.com said that at least 440 hectares (1,100 acres) of tropical forest were illegally logged in the central highland province, and protected areas were also being targeted.

Forest officials attribute the increase to high commodity, especially corn, prices, which encourages the conversion of forest for cropland.

Another factor, the website reports, is the  lack of staff and resources among companies that have leased forest concessions.

Vietnam has one of the world’s highest rates of primary forest loss.

Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 78% of its old-growth forests. Much of these were replaced with industrial plantations, with overall forest cover increasing by more than a third since 1990.

Plantations are biologically impoverished relative to natural forests. They also store less carbon.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 18/02/2009

Indonesia favours palm oil over peatlands


The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports Mongabay.com.

The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.

Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said the department is drafting a decree that would allow the drainage and conversion of peatland areas into oil palm estates.

“We still need land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Post during a conference organised by the National Commission on Climate Change.

“We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe,” he added.

“We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities.”

Degradation and destruction of peatlands in Indonesia results in hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Generally, developers dig a canal to drain the land, extract valuable timber, before clearing the vegetation using fire.

In dry years these fires can burn for months, contributing to the “haze” that plagues south-east Asian with increasing frequency.

Fires in peatlands are especially persistent, since they can continue to smolder underground for years even after surface fires are extinguished by monsoon rains.

While burning releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, merely draining peatlands also contributes to global warming. Once exposed to air, the peat oxidises, leading to decomposition and the relsease of carbon dioxide.

A study led by UK researcher Dr Susan Page from the University of Leicester found that producing one tonne of palm oil on peatland resulted in the release of up to 70 tonnes over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat loss and emissions from slash-and-burn fires.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/02/2009

Norway to pay Guyana to protect rainforests


Norway will provide financial support for Guyana’s ambitious plan to conserve its rainforests, reports Mongabay.com.

During a meeting in Oslo, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signedan agreement to establish a partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

It is also understood that the leaders will also push for the incorporation of a REDD mechanism that includes low deforestation countries like Guyana in a post-2012 climate change agreement.

“We agreed that if the world is to prevent irreversible climate change, it is essential that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are drastically reduced,” the men said in a statement.

It continued: “To achieve this vital objective, they agreed that determined and concerted action is needed.

“They emphasised that efforts under the UNFCCC towards REDD must be properly designed to ensure that deforestation is significantly reduced in countries where it is already occurring, and avoided in countries where deforestation rates are still low.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that REDD “would provide funding for provide funding for a shift away from forest-dependent employment and income generation, towards support for the creation of low carbon development and low deforestation economies”.

Norway’s financial commitment was not specified, although the statement noted that the Scandinavian country was “prepared to provide performance-based, substantial and sustained compensation for the progress Guyana makes in limiting emissions from deforestation at low levels and further decreasing forest degradation”.

The agreement includes the establishment of a “reputable international organisation” to distribute funds for low-carbon development based on Guyana’s performance.

President Jagdeo welcomed the deal: “The developing and the developed countries must work together to address global warming. I commend the government of Norway for showing leadership through its climate and forest initiative.”

Norway has pledged up to $430 million per year to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

To date, it has already committed up to $1bn to Brazil’s Sustainable Amazon Fund, provided the South American country meet targets for reducing deforestation.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Tropical tree offers mosquito repellent hope


Isolongifolenone, a natural compound found in the Tauroniro tree (Humiria balsamifera) of South America, has been identified as an effective deterrent of mosquitoes and ticks, reports Mongabay.com

It quotes researchers writing in the Journal of Medical Entomology, who said that derivatives of the compound have long been used as fragrances in cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, and paper products.

However, they added, new processing methods could make it as inexpensive to produce as DEET – a potent and widely available synthetic insect repellent that works by blocking the aroma of human sweat.

The authors, led by Aijun Zhang of the US Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, found that isolongifolenone deters the biting of the mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Anopheles stephensi “more effectively than the widely used synthetic chemical repellent N,N-diethyl-3-methyl benzamide (DEET) in laboratory bioassays”, and repels blacklegged ticks and lone star ticks “as effectively as DEET”.

“Isolongifolenone is easily synthesized from inexpensive turpentine oil feedstock,” the authors wrote.

“We are therefore confident that the compound has significant potential as an inexpensive and safe repellent for protection of large human populations against blood-feeding arthropods.”

Tauroniro, whose common names include Bastard bulletwood, Oloroso, Couramira, or Turanira, is found in marshy forests in the Guianas, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Brazilian Amazon, according to the US Forest Service.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Gabon bans harvest of four hardwood species


Gabon has banned the harvest of four valuable hardwoods according to the International Tropical Timber Organization’s Tropical Timber Market Report, writes Mongabay.com.

Afo, douka, moabi, and ozigo are no longer permitted to be harvested, the ITTO publication states.

Producers will have to dispose of all stocks of these species by the beginning of April this year.

The ITTO notes that “although individually the volumes of each of the four species are not that significant, the ban will mean a noticeable reduction in the harvest volumes per hectare.”

The move “is expected to impact the viability of some concession areas,” it continues.

The reason behind the decision was not immediately specified.

Prices for tropical hardwoods have been plunging as a result of falling demand resulting from the global economic slowdown.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 22/01/2009

High coffee prices ‘triggers Indonesian deforestation’


High coffee prices were responsible for a marked increase in deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, say researchers in a report in Mongabay.com.

But they added that law enforcement efforts could deter deforestation in protected areas, despite high pressure from agricultural expansion.

The study was assessing the effectiveness of conservation in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in southern Sumatra.

Using satellite imagery, ecological data, interviews, and GIS modelling to map tropical deforestation in and around Bukit Barisan Selatan over a 34-year period, lead author David Gaveau and colleagues found that law enforcement effectively “reduced deforestation to nil” in areas where it was undertaken.

In remote parts of the park where enforcement activities were lax or non-existent, forest areas were rapidly replaced by low-grade robusta coffee plantations, expansion of which was found to be closely correlated with coffee prices.

An estimated 20,000 tonnes – about 4% of Indonesia’s overall annual robusta coffee production – were produced inside this national park in 2006, and were exported into 52 countries around the world, reported the WWF in 2007.

The abandonment of the park by authorities during, and following, the 1997-1998 political crisis also resulted in increased deforestation.

“These findings indicate that law enforcement is critical but insufficient alone, and also highlight that rising costs of agricultural commodities can be detrimental to tropical forests,” said Dr Gaveau, a researcher with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Indonesia Programme.

“In southern Sumatra, farmers grow coffee instead of working elsewhere (e.g. in the off-farm sector) because rural labour is poorly compensated (around $2 per day).

“Therefore, higher local prices for coffee combined with low labour costs, rather than coffee price per se, is the underlying cause of deforestation in Indonesia’s main robusta coffee producing region.”

The authors argue that preserving forests in Bukit Barisan Selatan over the long-run will require a strategy that reduces the incentives for coffee cultivation.

They discuss merits of certification schemes for “sustainable” coffee as well as intensification of production, but conclude that raising rural wages relative to coffee prices, in concert with other measures, offers the best long-term hope for curtailing conversion for coffee in the Bukit Barisan Selatan area.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 22/01/2009

Wildlife trade ‘creating empty forest syndrome’


The illegal trade in wildlife products around the globe risks creating an “empty forest” syndrome, a US researcher has warned.

Mongabay.com reports Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), as saying that for many endangered species it is not the lack of suitable habitat that has imperiled them, but hunting.

She made her remarks during a presentation at a Smithsonian Symposium on tropical forests, which Take Cover featured last week.

She outlined the perils for many species of the booming and illegal wildlife trade.

Dr Bennett added that pristine forests, although providing perfect habitat for species, stood empty and quiet because the areas had been drained by hunting for bushmeat, traditional medicine, the pet trade, and trophies.

“Hunting has long been known as a primary cause of wildlife species depletion in tropical forests,” she explained.

But she added that the problem had increased exponentially in the past few decades.

Between 1992 and 2002, trade in wildlife has increase by 75% and showed no signs of slowing down.

The US researcher highlighted several factors that had prompted the rapid growth: rising populations; a steady decrease in forest cover, and remaining forests becoming more accessible; and more efficient methods of hunting.

For the last factor, Dr Bennett used the example of hunters in Cambodia using landmines to kill tigers.

However, the most important factor, she said, was the commercialisation and globalisation of the wildlife trade.

Increasing demand for endangered species from countries like China has led to more people trekking into their forests for incomes.

In addition, increasing wealth has allowed many more consumers to afford illegal items made from endangered species on the black market.

To give a picture of the scale of this underground trade, Bennett pointed a number of examples:

  • in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there are an estimated 1,500 restaurants selling wildlife meat
  • in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Pramuka market sells 1.5 million birds annually
  • a recent seizure of two shipments en route to China contained 14 tonnes of scaly anteater from Sumatra and 23 tonnes from Vietnam (the shipment contained an estimated 7,000 animals)

China is the world’s largest importer wildlife products, including an insatiable demand for turtles, ivory, tigers, pangolins, and many other species used for food or medicine.

Perhaps surprisingly, the USA is the second largest importer. According to Dr Bennett, many tonnes of bushmeat arrive in the US from Africa every month, and the US is large destination for the illegal pet trade.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 19/01/2009

Donors pledge $100m for tropical forest conservation


Donors meeting last week in Washington DC, US, pledged more than $100m (£50m) to the World Bank’s new initiative for conserving tropical forests, reports Mongabay.com.

In addition to the $100m in donations, the World Bank announced that more than 40 developing countries have asked to join the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility – the Bank’s foray into the emerging market for forest carbon credits.

Twenty-five countries have so far been selected to participate in the initiative, which builds capacity for countries to earn compensation through the carbon markets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

Experts say the mechanism could eventually lead to the transfer of billions of dollars per year to fund conservation and rural development in tropical countries, while at the same time helping fight climate change. Deforestation and land use change presently accounts for about one fifth of emissions from human activities.

The developing countries accepted into the facility include 10 in Africa (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Republic of Congo and Uganda); 10 in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru); and five in Asia and the South Pacific (Lao PDR, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Vietnam).

“The Congo Basin countries consider the FCPF as an opportunity to validate reducing forest degradation as a climate change mitigation instrument” said Etienne Makaga, director-general of L’Environnement du Gabon and Climate Focal Point.

“With the FCPF, forests will find their true role as carbon pools and providers of social and economic well-being. The FCPF is not a solution in and of itself. It must remain a structuring tool that will allow us to achieve the objectives of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”

The World Bank also announced the election of the FCPF Participants Committee, a group consisting of 10 donor and carbon fund participants and 10 developing country participants.

The committee’s first decision was to establish a small grants program for forest-dependent indigenous peoples and other forest dwellers to benefit from REDD via the FCPF.

The decision – though initially funded with just $1m – seeks to address the criticism that the REDD process doesn’t involve indigenous people, a charge that has been a major stumbling block in negotiations to date.

The governing panel of the partnership includes nineteen countries – Australia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, UK, US and Vietnam – and one NGO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which donated $5m.

“It is heartening to know that despite the current financial situation, countries around the world understand that we cannot delay action on battling climate change,” said Mark Tercek, president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy.

“Forest protection is one of the most cost-effective methods available to fight climate change. If we don’t take action now, climate change ultimately will have a much greater impact on the global economy and the natural resources we all depend upon for survival.”

“Right now, developing countries can generate more money from cutting down their forests than from keeping them standing,” Tercek continued.

“The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility will bring developed and industrialized countries together – along with forest communities, indigenous groups, the private sector and civil society – to establish a financial value for the carbon stored in standing forests.”

The FCPF expects to raise more funds from governments, NGOs, and the private sector in coming months. Participants in the meeting said they are encouraged by the progress to date.

“It is very encouraging to note the enthusiasm for REDD among such a large number of developing countries,” said Per Pharo, deputy director Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.

“Especially in light of the close cooperation being established between the World Bank and the UN REDD Program, we are very happy with how this is evolving. It is essential that REDD countries remain in the driver’s seat, and that all stakeholders are involved going forward.”

“I am impressed by the level of interest expressed in the FCPF by developing countries,” said Katherine Sierra, the World Bank’s Sustainable Development division’s vice president.

“We thought 20 would be a reasonable target, but more than 40 countries have said they were interested. Countries are investing considerable time and resources to prepare themselves for REDD, and they should be commended for taking these steps.”

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 23/10/2008

Forest diversity ‘stems from specialisation’


The rich diversity of trees in tropical forests may be “the result of subtle strategies that allow each species to occupy its own ecological niche” rather than random dispersal, Mongabay.com reports.

Studying the traits of trees in Yasuni forest in Ecuador, Nathan Kraft and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, found evidence to support the theory that “niche separation” – subtle habitat specialisations among species – drives tree diversity in the rainforest.

The researchers’ findings challenge the recent hypothesis of “neutral theory”, which attributes community composition to chance.

“If the neutral theory is correct, we would expect these traits to be distributed at random throughout the forest, but that was not the case,” said Renato Valencia, professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador and lead investigator at the Yasuni forest plot, which is associated with the Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network.

“The traits we measured give us important clues about the strategy of each species in the forest – how they make a living – if you will.

“One exciting thing that we found is that trees growing near each other tend to make a living in different ways from their neighbors,” explained Dr Kraft, from UC Berkeley.

“This is a common pattern in less diverse communities, but it is hard to imagine in a hyper-diverse forest like Yasuni.”

The scientists plan to continue their research at Yasuni and other sites to better understand the patterns of biodiversity around the world.

The Center for Tropical Forest Science/Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatory network includes more than 30 forest dynamics plots in 17 countries.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 24/10/2008

Nowhere to run for tropical species


Climbing temperatures may doom many tropical species to extinction if they are unable to migrate to higher elevations or cooler latitudes, reports Mongabay.com.

Analysing data for 1,902 species of plants, insects, and fungi in the tropics, Robert Colwell and colleagues, writing in the journal Science, warn that lowland areas are particularly at risk of biodiversity loss due to warming since “there is no source of species adapted to higher temperatures to replace those driven upslope by warming”.

The authors estimate that more than half the species they studied in Costa Rica could potentially face such risks.

At the same time species adapted to high elevations will be faced with “mountaintop extinctions” when they reach the summit of mountains.

A second study, by Craig Moritz and colleagues, found that warming in California’s Yosemite National Park has already caused elevational shifts in the range of mammals species.

“These kinds of changes in community composition have been going on forever,” said James Patton, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of integrative biology who led the field work for the second study in Yosemite.

“The only thing that makes this different is that it has probably happened in our lifetime. It is the speed with which these changes are taking place that gives one pause.”

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 10/10/2008

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