Climate Change and the Tropics (Carbon Agro-Forestry)
Climate, and in particular climate variation, has long been of interest to IID due to its agricultural and rural development background and, more recently, through its Risk Science Group. Here we summarise our thoughts on how the recent heightened international interest in climate change might impact on economic development in less developed rural areas, and vice versa.
It is commonly acknowledged that adverse climate change impacts most heavily, in relative terms, on the poor. Much early thinking by the development agencies about human induced climate change has thus focussed on mitigation strategies to reduce this impact. It is less well known that the poor, living in degraded tropical areas, can take action to combat climate change in ways that would also improve their livelihood. Relatively simple changes in land and forest management practices can facilitate improved photosynthesis and storage of carbon in forests and soils, a process termed Carbon Bio-sequestration. This can also improve soil productivity through improved water holding capacity and cat ion exchange capacity (plant ability to utilise nutrients). The key step is to provide appropriate incentives for these changes to occur. The point of interest for IID is that the new market for carbon credits has the potential to provide an important incentive for more investment in rural development.
The idea of combating climate change by this means and, at the same time, addressing poverty in degraded land, is not new. The FAO and others have investigated this potential and provided the theoretical basis for its inclusion under the Kyoto protocol as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Unfortunately the conditions for inclusion are rather restrictive due to methodological and social factors including (Gullison 2007), that:
- photo synthetic processes might be only a 'one shot' contribution until forest canopies close again,
- land based sinks are more diffuse and difficult to monitor than industrial emissions and more subject to 'leakage', (for example, where reforestation is offset by more forest clearance elsewhere for logging and food production), and
- leakage can be exacerbated by governance issues inhibiting the control of logging in many tropical regions.
Building on IID member strengths and long term experience in rural development, the Development Fund has supported John Leake during 2006-2007 to review, with Professor Tim Flannery, the potential for such efforts to make an appreciable difference to climate change abatement, assisted in some measure by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. A paper submitted to previous minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Hon Greg Hunt and was influential in the previous Government announcing the $200million APEC Forestry Initiative. Other papers have been submitted to The Clinton Climate Initiative and to US remote sensing firms, offering services to monitor and account for carbon pool changes as a result of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) activities. Further conceptual papers have been submitted to clients in Indonesia and to a major bank in Australia. One paper has been published by the Stanford University Journal Climatic Change in February 2008.
The IID papers produced (and available on application), include:
- Editorial comment on Biosphere carbon stock management: Addressing the threat of abrupt climate change in the next few decades, by Peter Read. Accepted for publication in Climatic Change DOI 10.1007/s10584-007-9385-6 (Springer Stanford University 2007)
- Climate Change and Rural Communities 2007, Leake J.E
- A review of the potential to bio sequester carbon in the tropics as a measure for removing the net Atmospheric Carbon produced by the Industrial Revolution, Leake J, E, 2007 Submitted for publication in Climatic Change 2007.
- A review of estimates for the potential for bio sequestration in the tropics, Leake J E & Flannery Tim 2007
- Rehabilitation of tropical and subtropical areas as a means for the bio sequestration of Carbon. Leake J E and Flannery Tim 2006-2007
The general conclusion of this work was that bio-sequestration by the rural communities in the tropics has the potential to be the most cost effective land based means of reducing emissions from vegetative decay, and 'stripping' carbon from the atmosphere in the short to medium term. This low cost comes about because is of the combined benefits of the efficiency of photosynthesis in the tropics and the other benefits that accrue to the communities undertaking the task.
Some additional findings of note include:
- Bio sequestration in the tropics will provide opportunities for innovative banks as rural lending has long been impeded by lack of credible and transferable security over rural property or produce. There is an opportunity for banks to assist in the development of secure title instruments for carbon offsets as the transactions can be controlled at the point of transfer. This means that farmers who might lose carbon rights as a consequence of credit delinquency would retain the other benefits of improved productivity, providing them with additional reasons to participate,
- Development of accurate descriptions of carbon offsets in soils and mixed forest situations requires more research and the development of methods to involve the community in each district for education and so that buyers and sellers can be more similarly informed,
- It is important that bio sequestration activities act to reduce social tensions, arising from land use rights alienation or other disturbance as has occurred with plantation forestry and palm oil development, and requiring cooperation with external investors in these industries,
- There will be opportunities for insurance companies to underwrite bio sequestration activities in the tropics and this too may generate business opportunities for insurance companies,
- Evaluating bio-sequestration projects is not simple as conventional project economic analysis usually depends on the financial return from the main product to justify the investment but tends to under estimate the gross benefits where multiple outputs are expected, including carbon offsets and bio diversity conservation credits, to name two such examples.