Can saving the Amazon save the planet?

A global carbon market aims to curb emissions and slow climate change by protecting rainforests

Topics: GlobalPost, Environment, Global Warming,

Can saving the Amazon save the planet? (Credit: AP Photo/Luiz Vasconcelos, Interfoto, File)
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

LIMA, Peru — International negotiators are closing in on a new solution for combating climate change — and saving the world’s remaining forests.

Global Post

Some 20 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions now come from deforestation, especially in the lush, green band of tropical rainforest that circles the earth.

That is more than from global transport.

So representatives from member states involved in UN climate negotiations are attempting to hammer out a way to make it more profitable to protect forests than destroy them.

By providing cash for maintaining healthy forests, they hope to undermine the economic imperative for poor countries or individuals to cut down trees for timber, to free land for agriculture, or to make way for roads, housing and other infrastructure.

The idea, known as reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, or REDD, will be included in the successor to the Kyoto protocol, which is now the only international treaty aimed at climate change.

The new treaty is due to be finalized in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Integral to the plan would be the establishment of a multibillion-dollar international carbon market, in which companies could trade forest “credits,” or papers equal to one ton of carbon prevented from entering the atmosphere.

Businesses would buy the credits to offset their own emissions, in compliance with anti-pollution laws in their home countries.

‘’REDD has huge potential as a climate solution,” said Toby Janson-Smith, senior director of the climate program at Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business.

One reason for its popularity: It makes economic sense.

It costs about $2 to $4 to prevent a ton of “forest carbon” from entering the atmosphere. The price tag for capturing the same amount of carbon from a coal-fired power station hovers between $75 and $115.

REDD is also expected to give a helping hand to all kinds of environmentally-friendly forest businesses, from eco-tourism to the sustainable harvesting of timber, bark, nuts and other forest products by local communities.

But there are also major concerns: among them, determining internationally accepted safeguards to maintain the credibility of this new, abstract commodity, and keep companies from exploiting loopholes in the plan. Human-rights advocates also want to protect the rights of millions of poor people who live in the world’s forests.



Closing the loopholes

And one key question: how to quantify the amount of carbon emissions believed to have been avoided by saving a patch of forest?

To do that, baselines of existing forests, and their “carbon density,” must first be established, using a combination of methods, including satellite imagery and the time-consuming counting and measuring of trees on the ground.

Then comes the hard part: Deciding how much of a patch of forest would have been either completely cleared or significantly degraded had it not been for the REDD project protecting it.

At the latest round of UN climate negotiations at Durban last December, the door was opened for countries to use projected deforestation rather than historical deforestation in their calculations.

Environmentalists now fear nations will exaggerate projected deforestation in an attempt to both earn extra REDD cash and avoid having to genuinely reduce deforestation.

“We could even end up rewarding countries for increasing emissions,” said Susanne Breitkopf, a climate policy expert at Greenpeace International.

Indigenous rights

Another source of controversy is the role of forest communities, often indigenous peoples whose ancestors have lived in the same forest for millennia.

Many fear REDD could trigger a new land-grab at their expense. Meanwhile, some of the world’s largest investment banks — including those implicated in the 2008 credit crisis — could profit from trading in the new carbon paper.

That fear has been compounded by the rush of unregulated private REDD projects already being launched in forests in developing nations around the world, partly in anticipation of the 2015 treaty.

Yet many green and human rights groups have now swapped their early opposition to REDD for a place at the negotiating table to ensure that it is implemented with the necessary safeguards. The “ideology” has disappeared from the environmentalists’ positions on REDD, says Conservation International’s Janson-Smith.

Too little too late?

As REDD moves off the drawing board, saving the world’s forests will have other huge benefits.

Tropical rainforests cover just 2 percent of the earth’s surface but house half of all plant and animal species. Modern society uses many of those species for everything from cancer treatments to cosmetics and, of course, food.

But the timing of the new treaty, which will not take effect for another eight years, worries many scientists, who believe emissions must be slashed immediately.

As the climate crisis accelerates from New Orleans to Bangladesh, will REDD and the new UN treaty work fast enough to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis?

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>