The lowest-cost approach to compensating reductions in emissions from deforestation and degradation under a proposed UN program (REDD) isn’t necessarily the best approach for biodiversity conservation, report researchers writing in the journal Science.
Oscar Venter, a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland, and colleagues, evaluated the prospects for REDD on a global scale and found the cheapest way to reduce deforestation by 20 percent would exclude critical biodiversity hotspots that support a large proportion of the world’s endangered species. Looking strictly at the cost-effectiveness of forest conservation, the researchers conclude that most conservation funding would go to the Amazon, where large tracts of unprotected forest can be conserved relatively inexpensively. By comparison, Asia, which houses the bulk of the planet’s threatened species and is experiencing large-scale forest destruction by loggers and palm oil producers, would miss out due to its high opportunity cost for conservation. In other words, in Asia the very practices that are driving deforestation increase the cost of REDD implementation. The region’s biodiversity could lose out.
Sumatran orangutans in Sumatra
To avoid this scenario, the authors argue that REDD should include a biodiversity component to allocate more money to species-rich countries. Minor adjustments to the scheme could double the number of species protected under REDD while reducing the carbon benefits by only four to eight percent. The authors suggest that the amended program could by funded by groups interested in preserving biodiversity. For example companies might be willing to pay a premium for carbon credits generated by conserving habitat of particularly endangered species like certain lemurs in Madagascar and the Sumatran rhino and orangutan in Indonesia.
“Dollar for dollar, a carbon-focused approach contributes little to slowing biodiversity loss and will save far fewer species than a biodiversity-focused strategy that targets the most imperiled forests,” said Venter.
Proportions of REDD funds allocated to forest-losing countries to (A) minimize carbon emissions, (B) minimize loss of forest vertebrates, and (C) minimize carbon emissions while simultaneously doubling benefits to biodiversity. These three scenarios would reduce deforestation by up to 20%. Shown above each map is the expected number of averted forest mammal, bird, and amphibian extinctions (a random allocation of funds protects 8.4 species on average). Countries in white are not losing net forest cover and so are excluded from the analysis. Image and caption courtesy of Science.
“If we’re smart we could combat global warming while saving some of the most endangered wildlife on Earth,” added William Laurancee, senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and distinguished professor at James Cook University. “Billions of dollars will be spent on forest-carbon initiatives in the next decade, and this could translate into huge benefits for vanishing species if we focus some of the spending in places where tropical biodiversity is most imperiled.”
CITATION: Oscar Venter, William F. Laurance, Takuya Iwamura, Kerrie A. Wilson, Richard A. Fuller, Hugh P. Possingham. Harnessing Carbon Payments to Protect Biodiversity. 4 DECEMBER 2009 VOL 326 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org