Could ecosystem services save the Amazon?

A new report suggests that the Amazonian rainforest may be worth more standing than cut and cleared for farming.

Keeping_the_amazon_forests_standing_217761 Although the idea is not new, a recent report (Keeping the Amazon forest standing: a matter of values) commissioned by the WWF suggests that marketing the ecological services supplied by the Amazonian forest could hold the key for its long-term survival. Valuations of these services include carbon storage and avoided emissions ($70-100 per ha annually), production of non-timber forest products ($50-100/ha/year), erosion prevention ($238/ha/year), pollination services ($49/ha/year), existence value ($10-26/ha/year) and ecotourism ($3-7/ha/year). Although these ecosystem services cannot simply be added together (as they are interrelated), limited production of timber through reduced impact logging (not necessarily sustainable production) could boost the value even higher. "Humans are very dependent on the services provided by the Amazon region that are disappearing rapidly but for which we are not paying as yet: rain for agriculture, clean drinking water, pure air and the combating of global warming," stated Johan van Gronden, General Manager of WWF-Netherlands. Read on to find out more on this report and how the REDD mechanism is addressing these issues…….

These services compare favourably with other forms of land use in the region such as soyabean and beef production. Soyabeans generate $300-600 per ha while cattle ranching returns $50-150 per ha. However, the WWF report warns that revenues generated by ecosystem services from an intact Amazonian rainforest are still not high enough to offset unsustainable activities. Estimates for returns from ecotourism and non-timber forest products are at best described as "optimistic" although returns from biodiversity conservation, maintenance of hydrological services and pollination services (primarily for coffee plantations) are more promising. But the authors caution that these are not captured in effective payment mechanisms.

This hasn't deterred a private equity firm who, in early last year, invested an undisclosed sum for the rights to the environmental services generated by a 371,000 ha rainforest reserve in Guyana. Terms of the deal were not made public but it is interesting that a financial firm is betting on possible future compensation in the financial markets.

44286slashburn_72 Deforestation currently causes 20-29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, making it the second largest source after fossil fuel use. Three major assessments (1,2,3) have suggested that tropical deforestation accounted for at least a quarter of all anthropogenic carbon emissions in the 1980s and 1990s (with estimates ranging from 1.9 to 3.0 billion metric tonnes/yr. Studies has shown that subsequent land use types after deforestation contain less carbon per ha than primary forests. If one ascribes a value to the immense quantity of carbon stored in the Amazon rainforest, this could tip the balance from unsustainable to sustainable forest management. This value could amount to $5 per tonne or less over 96% of the region.

Under post-2012 climate policy, industrialized nations will start to pay for forest conservation in tropical countries under the REDD mechanism (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation). Under this mechanism the carbon stocks in forest ecosystems that have avoided deforestation and degradation are allocated a monetary value, which will fund sustainable forest management benefiting local communities, van der Gronden commenting "REDD is not the only mechanism for the realisation of sustainable forest management, but certainly the one that is the most promising." However, WWF-Brazil emphasize the importance of tackling issues at the receiving end of any REDD mechanism, such as lack of clarity concerning land ownership, the illegal occupation of land and the illegal land market.

The importance of REDD in climate change negotiations has been recognized by the Global Canopy Programme which published "The Little REDD Book" last November 2008. This straightforward, authoritative guide to analysing proposals on REDD from governments and NGOs was produced for issue to UN negotiators at Poznan. However, it has received wider acclaim and has undergone further evolution and is now been published in four languages. Further editions are planned for June and November 2009. Based on a study by the Prince's Rainforests Project, it sets out a framework for understanding any REDD proposal, presenting comparative information in the form of graphs and icons in a clear layout. Information on 33 key country and NGO proposals are included with the aim of providing a clear and practical overview of the subject. The aim of The Little REDD Book is to help forest stakeholders to understand and compare current and future proposals in a consistent way in order to promote a consensus on how to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation.

There are a number of key challenges to REDD implementation that remain, however. Katia Karousakis of the OECD identifies these as:

  • monitoring, reporting and verification for national inventory purposes
  • capacity building in developing countries and ensuring enabling policy environments, including land tenure
  • minimising perverse incentives such as agricultural and energy subsidies

She states that any REDD system should be flexible and evolve over time according to national circumstances, with actions aiming towards a long-term "shared vision" for climate change mitigation that is necessary to achieve sustainable stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

It is generally agreed that what is needed now is the political will to achieve these aims and the hope that the US, under new leadership, will galvanize action for meaningful change at the next round of international climate change negotiations.

CABI's newest internet resource Environmental Impact has extensive information on deforestation, carbon sequestration and the effects of climate change plus much more.

  1. Fernside, P. M. (2000) Global warming and tropical land-use change: greenhouse gas emission from biomass burning, decomposition and soils in forest conversion, shifting cultivation and secondary vegetation. Climatic Change, 46, 115-158
  2. Malhi, Y. and Grace, J. (2000) Tropical forests and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 15 (8), 332-337
  3. Houghton, R. A. (2003) Revised estimates of the annual net flux of carbon to the atmosphere from changes in land use and land management 1850-2000. Tellus, 55B (2), 378-390

 

One thought on “Could ecosystem services save the Amazon?

  1. Sarah April 1, 2009 / 11:08 am

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    Sarah
    http://www.craigslistsimplified.info

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