Bid to Team Rich and Poor in Sustaining Forests ; at Montreal Climate Talks, Delegates Examine Incentives to Stem Deforestation in Developing Countries

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Two years ago, it seemed like a bad idea: Let rich nations earn credit for trimming greenhouse-gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol by helping countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa save their vanishing tropical forests.

People thought it would be an easy out that would be difficult to monitor and present too many potential loopholes to be effective.

But now, delegates to global climate talks here have dusted off the concept. Deforestation and other land-use changes account for up to 25 percent of the CO2 that human activities release into the atmosphere each year.

By conserving the forests, analysts say, countries can maintain a natural storehouse for a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Avoided deforestation, as it's known, "is a very salient question" for future emission-reduction regimes, says Nigel Purvis, a former US negotiator to the protocol who is now with the Nature Conservancy.

The Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period ends in 2012. Industrial countries are bracing for new emissions targets far tougher than the ones they agreed to reach between 2008 and 2012 - an average of some 5 percent below 1990 levels.

Countries in the European Union, for example, are exploring the possibility of cuts in CO2 emissions from 15 to 30 percent below 1990 levels for a post-2012 commitment period. Adding avoided- deforestation projects to the tool kit - allowing industrial countries to receive credits against their emissions targets - could help the heavier polluters.

Let developing countries earn credits

Some variations on the idea would allow developing countries as well to earn carbon credits for each ton of emissions avoided through such projects. These countries could sell their credits on the growing international carbon market. In principle, the money would flow back to local residents who otherwise would have cut trees for a living or cleared forests to grow crops.

Jeorg Siefert-Grazin, with the Fundacion Amigos de la Naturaleza (Friends of Nature Foundation) in Bolivia, points to the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project in his country as an example of what can be done. …