A Green Solution to Climate Change: The Hybrid Approach to Crediting Reductions in Tropical Deforestation

By Abate, Randall S.; Wright, Todd A. | Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview
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A Green Solution to Climate Change: The Hybrid Approach to Crediting Reductions in Tropical Deforestation


Abate, Randall S., Wright, Todd A., Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum


INTRODUCTION

Global climate change is a multi-faceted international crisis that requires creative and flexible regulatory solutions. Addressing the principal anthropogenic cause of climate change--carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels--has been the focus of the international response to global climate change to date. (1) However, a significant and often overlooked source of global carbon dioxide emissions is deforestation, which accounts for up to eighteen percent of global carbon dioxide emissions annually. (2) Tropical forests store 120-400 tons of carbon per square hectare of vegetation, which is released into the atmosphere when the forests are burned or harvested. (3)

The critically important role that forests play in international carbon release and storage has been a recent focus of negotiations of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Kyoto Protocol in Bali, Indonesia (4) and Poznan, Poland: The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, (6) and negotiations for the terms of its successor are underway as of this writing. (7) A focus of these negotiations is that it is essential to establish regulatory mechanisms to help curb emissions from tropical deforestation in any effective post-Kyoto plan to combat global climate change. (8)

Despite increasing awareness of the link between deforestation and climate change, tropical deforestation rates are accelerating dramatically. International deforestation in the past 240 years has caused a net release of approximately 121 gigatons of carbon, sixty percent of which is attributable to tropical deforestation in the past half century. (9) During the 1980s, tropical deforestation accounted for more than ninety percent of carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. (10) In 2007, the deforestation rate of the Amazon in Brazil nearly quadrupled for the months of August through December, with monthly numbers increasing from 234 square kilometers in August to 948 square kilometers in December. (11) In 2008, Brazil's National Institute of Space Research reported that newly deforested areas in the Amazon comprised 1124 square kilometers in April, 1096 square kilometers in May, and 870 square kilometers in June. (12) Tropical deforestation in Indonesia is even more staggering, with rates in excess of one million hectares per year as of this writing. (13)

Tropical deforestation is a multi-faceted threat to the international climate change crisis. In addition to releasing stored carbon, it reduces the remaining forests' capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. (14) Furthermore, the loss of tropical forests will have significant effects on our planet's natural climate stabilizers. For example, the Amazon rainforest alone emits approximately seven trillion tons of water per year into the atmosphere, which ultimately turns into water vapor. (15) This water vapor has a significant cooling effect on global climate patterns. (16)

Under the Kyoto Protocol, (17) countries that are undergoing or are susceptible to engaging in large-scale deforestation have no incentive to curb these emissions. (18) At present, the market drivers of deforestation (19) are simply more profitable for developing nations (20) than forest conservation. (21) In the absence of a carbon crediting scheme for developing tropical nations to earn tradable carbon credits for reducing deforestation, there is little financial incentive for these nations to reduce their deforestation practices. (22) Furthermore, even if a plan is adopted offering nations financial incentive to decrease deforestation, certain nations, with low deforestation rates still have little if any incentive to decrease deforestation due to the methodology used for crediting tradable carbon credits. (23)

The Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), (24) which allows Annex I nations (25) to meet their Kyoto emissions limits by investing in emissions reductions projects in developing countries, currently offers no tradable credits to Annex I countries' projects that credit tropical nations for reducing deforestation.

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