REDD shouldn't neglect biodiversity say scientists

Rhett A. Butler,
July 30, 2009

Schemes to mitigate climate change by protecting tropical forests must take into account biodiversity conservation, said two leading scientific organizations at the conclusion of a four day meeting in Marburg, Germany.

The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) and the Society for Tropical Ecology (GTOE) jointly issued a "Marburg Declaration" highlighting the dangers of excluding biodiversity from emissions mitigation strategies like the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism, which could direct billions of dollars annually to forest conservation initiatives. The risk is that REDD developers may focus efforts where land is the cheapest and most carbon-dense, leaving other biologically-rich ecosystems exposed to degradation or destruction. In some cases REDD could even bias conservation decisions against low-carbon ecosystems that are important reservoirs of plant and animal life.

Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant (Lophotriccus pileatus) at Las Cruces, Costa Rica
"If we're going to limit harmful climate change, we simply must reduce the rampant destruction of tropical forests, which spews 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year," said William Laurance, former ATBC president and a professor at James Cook University in Australia. "But it's not enough just to reduce carbon emissions—we also have to save imperiled species."

"The most critically endangered species are not in Amazonia," said Priya Davidar, current ATBC president and a professor at the University of Pondicherry in India. "They're in the last surviving scraps of forest in places like the Philippines, Magagascar, India, West Africa, and the Andean Mountains of South America. These places are biodiversity hotspots—final refuges for thousands of endangered plants and animals."

"There's enormous potential to help protect vanishing forests with carbon money, but if we're not careful we could squander our chance to save critically endangered wildlife."

Due to the technical and financial hurdles to establishing a qualifying project, REDD currently favors large projects over small community-based initiatives. The implication is that forest fragments — often the last vestiges of forest in species-rich regions such as Madagascar, West Africa, the Brazilian Atlantic forest, and small islands — are less likely to see benefits from the mechanism. Although there have been some efforts to integrate these forest islands into broader projects, but success is by no means assured. Similarly, while there are emerging standards, like the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Project Design Standards, for forest carbon projects, it is still unclear whether biodiversity conservation be a key priority during negotiations of the post-Kyoto climate treaty. Signees of the "Marburg Declaration" want to make it one.

Manfred Niekisch, president of the GTOE and director of the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany, says that companies and countries should also be encouraged to consider biodiversity when supporting forest carbon initiatives.

"We urge all nations and corporations to invest in carbon funds to help preserve disappearing forests," said Manfred Niekisch, president of the GTOE and director of the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany. "But when you do so, pay a little extra so you're protecting the most imperiled habitats. That way we can slow global warming and also save some of the most amazing and imperiled wildlife on earth."


The Urgent Need to Maximize Biodiversity Conservation in Forest Carbon-Trading

A joint communiqué of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) and the Society for Tropical Ecology (GTÖ) during their joint annual meeting in Marburg, Germany, 26-29 July 2009

WHEREAS, tropical forests around the world are being destroyed at an alarming pace, currently averaging 10-15 million hectares per year—roughly equivalent to 50 football fields per minute; and

WHEREAS, tropical forests are among the biologically-richest ecosystems on earth, sustaining at least half of all plant, animal, and fungal species in an area spanning just 7% of the planet's land surface; and

WHEREAS, tropical forests perform an array of vital ecosystem services, such as storing large stocks of carbon in their living biomass and soils, reducing soil erosion and downstream flooding, and copiously releasing water vapor into the atmosphere that creates clouds and promotes life-giving rainfall; and

WHEREAS, tropical forests are home to an estimated 50 million indigenous forest peoples and provide livelihoods for large numbers of rural communities; and

WHEREAS, the rapid destruction of tropical forests produces about 20% of all human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases—the equivalent of 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually—which is a serious contributor to global warming; and

WHEREAS, tropical deforestation further promotes global warming by reducing the formation of clouds, which reflect much solar radiation away from earth; and

WHEREAS, current policy initiatives designed to use international carbon-trading to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation of tropical forests—termed 'REDD'—are rapidly gaining momentum and deserve strong political and public support; and

WHEREAS, at present rates of growth, international funding for REDD could soon dwarf all other spending for tropical conservation; and

WHEREAS, as presently structured, REDD funding will be focused largely on protecting areas that are most cost-effective for reducing carbon emissions, such as countries that have high deforestation rates and large expanses of relatively inexpensive forest land; and

WHEREAS, from a biodiversity-conservation perspective, the most urgent areas to protect are biodiversity 'hotspots'—the last vestiges of forest in species-rich regions such as Madagascar, the tropical Andes, the island nations of Southeast Asia, Indochina, West Africa, the Brazilian Atlantic forest, and many smaller tropical islands—that contain large concentrations of endangered species threatened with imminent extinction; and

WHEREAS, many of the recognized biodiversity hotspots occur in areas that have been climatically stable over long periods of time, and if protected might become important refugia for wildlife facing serious climatic change in the future; and

WHEREAS, despite its potentially huge benefits for biodiversity protection, the costs of implementing REDD will often be greater in biodiversity hotspots because these forests are limited in extent and development and human-population pressures there are often intense;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the world's largest scientific organization devoted to the study, protection, and wise use of tropical forests, and its sister European organization, the Society for Tropical Ecology, jointly urge the following:

1) That efforts to maximize the benefits of REDD for biodiversity conservation be a key priority during international negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, especially during its forthcoming meeting of the Convention of Parties in Copenhagen, Denmark; and

2) That nongovernmental conservation groups promote private funding strategies to increase the cost-competitiveness of carbon credits from the world's most imperiled forests and ecosystems; and

3) That REDD initiatives also focus on reducing other immediate threats to tropical biodiversity beyond deforestation, such as overhunting, fires, and unsustainable logging; and

4) That efforts to promote biodiversity conservation via REDD are done in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of indigenous and local communities; and

5) That cost-benefit analyses be urgently conducted to help develop optimal strategies to simultaneously maximize the benefits of REDD for both reducing carbon emissions and protecting endangered biodiversity; and

6) That public and private donors to REDD schemes stipulate wherever possible that their funds are to be used not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to help halt or mitigate threats to the most endangered forests and species on earth.

Rhett A. Butler, (July 30, 2009).

REDD shouldn't neglect biodiversity say scientists.