Carbon trading ‘not enough to save rainforests’

Including carbon emissions from tropical deforestation in a future international climate regime will not suffice to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests from expanding palm oil plantations, according to a study by researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

Delegates at the recent UN climate summit in Poznan, Poland, reduced emissions from deforestation (REDD) was one of the top issues, and hopes were high that a climate protocol could help reduce deforestation in the tropics in the future.

Carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation at present account for around 20% of total global emissions, on a par with emissions from the transport sector.

Currently, there are no incentives for tropical countries to reduce these emissions, although this could change if the emissions are included in a future climate protocol.

“It is argued that this would make forest clearance unprofitable and tropical countries would choose to preserve more of their remaining forests,” said study author Martin Persson.

“However, a carbon price will also increase the demand for bioenergy and make forest clearance for agricultural land more profitable,” he added.

The researcher said clearing tropical forests for palm oil plantations, producing both liquid and solid biofuels, will remain highly profitable even when faced with a price on the carbon emissions arising from deforestation.

The current efforts to include tropical deforestation in a future climate regime may therefore not be sufficient to protect the world’s tropical forests, he suggested.

The expansion of palm oil plantations is already an important driving force behind deforestation in South-East Asia, although the proportion of palm oil that goes into biodiesel production is still small.

In addition, with increasing profitability, there is a risk that palm oil plantations will also start to expand in the Amazon and Congo basins, areas with a large share of the world’s remaining tropical forests.

“These results should not be taken as an argument for keeping tropical deforestation out of a future international climate regime,” observed Mr Persson.

“That would only make matters worse. But it implies that in addition to a price on the carbon emissions from deforestation, other and stronger protection measures will still be needed.”

Source: Chalmers University of Technology press release

Date: 09/12/2008

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