The concept seems simple: Enlist key developing countries in the
fight against global warming by paying them with carbon credits to
not cut down their tropical forests. In international climate talks,
the idea has gained a lot of traction.
But some forest ecologists are figuratively tugging on
negotiators' sleeves and saying: "Don't forget forests at higher
latitudes." It may be time to give countries with large intact
temperate and boreal (far northern) forests credit for forest
preservation as well, they say.
It's not clear how much traction this policy prescription could
have. Whether and how to account for forests' roles in slowing
global warming - forests in wealthy, developed countries, that is -
has long been contentious.
Giving developed countries a credit-for-preservation deal doesn't
erase the principle that different countries have different
responsibilities for tackling climate change, says Sebastiaan
Luyssaert, an ecologist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. But
"when primary forest landscapes provide much-needed services to
mankind, this should be accounted for, irrespective of country."
From the atmosphere's perspective, "a pulse of CO2 has the same
warming effect, irrespective of the GDP of the forest" from which it
came, says Brendan Makey, an ecologist at the Australian National
University in Canberra. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC), "we need to be well below zero emissions by
2100," he says. And in order to stabilize concentrations of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, "we do not have a choice ... but
to halt emissions from deforestation and degradation - and in fact
begin to restore the terrestrial carbon stock."
Setting up a system to give developing countries credit for
tropical-forest conservation is seen by many as low-hanging fruit in
the struggle against climate change. Some 90 percent of global
deforestation - responsible for 20 percent of all human-caused CO2
emissions - occurs in 24 tropical nations.
Such a system would reward poor countries with a financial
incentive to reduce deforestation. Developed naA-A-tions, facing the
prospect of tighter greenhouse-gas emissions, would be eager to buy
carbon credits tropical countries earned this way.
For tropical countries, the sale of carbon credits could bring in
from $2.2 billion to $13.5 billion a year, based on the value of the
credits on international carbon markets, according to a study
published early this year in Britain's Philosophical Transactions of
the Royal Society B.
Now new research suggests that some of the world's oldest forests
at higher latitudes soak up CO2 far longer than previously believed.
Belgium's Dr. Luyssaert says the initial exclusion of these forests
in carbon accounting assumed that such old-growth forests gave off
through respiration as much CO2 as they took in through phoA-A-toA-