Thirteen years ago, The Nature Conservancy teamed up with Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza, American Electric Power Company, BP America and Pacificorp to buy out four logging concessions adjacent to Bolivia’s Noel Kempff Mercado National Park.
In addition to protecting almost 832,000 hectares of forest habitat and doubling the size of the national park, this purchase (which became known as the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project) aimed to test an idea that was appealing in principal but not yet tested in practice — that saving trees could reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Today, there is broad agreement among businesses, environmentalists, local communities, and government leaders that forest protection must be part of the solution in the global fight against climate change.
Why such broad consensus? Because deforestation accounts for about 17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — more than from all the planes, trains and automobiles on Earth.
Slowing — and eventually stopping — that deforestation is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. And it is something we can do right now.
But in 1996, discussions about how to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) were in their infancy.
Trees obviously store carbon as they grow, but there were outstanding questions about how to measure the emissions reductions and to assure that saving trees in one place would not just displace logging elsewhere.
A report from Greenpeace being issued today revisits some of those old questions in an attempt to criticize the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project and to discredit emissions offsets that businesses might claim by supporting such efforts in the future.
The Nature Conservancy respectfully disagrees with Greenpeace’s assertions — a disagreement based on our experience working on the ground for more than a decade to develop high quality forest carbon projects, and on the documented accomplishments and lessons learned from the Noel Kempff project.
As the world’s first project of its kind, the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project was a pioneer project that tested and refined the science of forest carbon accounting and monitoring. It is the first — and still only — REDD project to have its carbon benefits verified by an independent third party.
The Noel Kempff project also serves as an example of how well-designed forest carbon projects can result in real, scientifically measurable and verifiable emissions reductions with important benefits for biodiversity and local communities. These benefits and reductions include:
- Avoiding 1,034,107 metric tons of verified CO2 emissions — emissions that would have been caused by logging and deforestation between 1997 and 2005;
- Preserving a rich and biologically diverse forest ecosystem that was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding biodiversity value;
- Helping local indigenous communities achieve legal status as “Communities of Native Peoples” and obtain official land title;
- Providing alternative, environmentally sustainable economic opportunities for the local communities, especially via community forestry, and jobs in park monitoring;
- Establishing an endowment which is used to fund project activities and preserve the park for future generations.
The Nature Conservancy and other organizations are now building on the experience and lessons learned in Noel Kempff to inform scientifically rigorous methods and standards for other forest carbon projects, and we are undertaking REDD projects that span entire political jurisdictions in Berau, Indonesia and Para, Brazil.
Projects like these are critical stepping stones that can help inform development of national-level programs and build up the capacity and expertise that countries will need to protect their forests on a national scale.
Getting REDD right and doing it at national scales is essential for making forests a part of the climate solution.
The Nature Conservancy is proud to have had the courage to take the first steps with the Noel Kempff Climate Action project.
We remain steadfastly committed to working with partners from all sectors to learn from, improve on and share the lessons of our experience in Noel Kempff and other forest carbon projects around the world.
(Image: Arcoiris waterfall at Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia, South America. Credit: Hermes Justiniano.)