My colleague Karen Foerstel, associate director for policy and media relations, offers the following post on a new study linking forest carbon markets, emissions reductions, and economic development:

A new study released this week clearly demonstrates a critical point we are pushing at the international climate negotiations here in Bonn: A global carbon market that values forest carbon will provide countries with the financial incentives they need to protect forests and fight climate change.

The study, written by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and others organizations, found that carbon credits earned through reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is worth more than clearing forests for palm oil plantations.

The scientists looked at 8.2 million acres of forests in Kalimantan, located on the island of Borneo, that are slated to become palm oil plantations.

The scientists assumed a price between $10 and $33 for one ton of carbon dioxide. Currently, the rate per ton is around $20, the study said.

In addition to showing that forest conservation could be more profitable than forest destruction, the study said protecting the Kalimantan forests would prevent 2.1 billion tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Indonesia is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters, with 80 percent of its emissions coming from forest destruction. Palm oil plantations, which have rapidly overtaken much of Indonesia’s forestlands as demand for bio-fuels and consumer products such as cosmetics and cooking oil increases, is a leading cause of deforestation in that country.

As these forests disappear, so do the vital water and food resources they provide to local communities. The 800 proposed plantations located in the forestslands that were studied also are home to 40 threatened mammals including orangutans and pygmy elephants.

But the study shows that countries do not have to destroy their forests in order to make money. Carbon markets, in fact, can allow countries like Indonesia to double their income by shifting palm oil plantations to already degraded lands while earning money from protecting healthy forests.

The Nature Conservancy is currently working with government agencies, communities and businesses in Indonesia to launch one of the world’s largest REDD programs. The program would be implemented by the district government of Berau, which spans 5.4 million acres, 75 percent of which is covered by forest. By moving palm oil plantations to degraded forest lands, along with using sustainable forestry practices, creating protected areas and reforesting degraded lands, the project would reduce carbon emissions by some 3 million tons each year — equivalent to removing 600,000 cars from America’s highways.

The study, titled “Carbon Payments as a Safeguard for Threatened Tropical Mammals,” was published in the journal Conservation Letters. It was authored by researchers from The Nature Conservancy, the University of Queensland in Australia, the Center for International Forestry Research, Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda and the Great Ape Trust of Iowa.

Further Reading: How Carbon Markets Can Make Both Economic and Ecological Sense (New York Times, DotEarth)

(Image: Mark Godfrey/TNC, Conservancy scientists doing survey work in the Lesan River Orangutan Survey site in the forest of East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia.)

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