The United Nations annual report on the status of forests came out last week with promising news: some forests are reversing centuries of decline. However, it noted that deforestation continues to be a serious problem in countries with high rates of poverty and civil conflict. On this World Forestry Day , we examine how a small forestry project in rural China – the first in the world to meet international standards on curbing climate change – can start a global chain effect on revitalizing forests.
With logging mostly to blame for the loss of more than 75 percent of its forests, China needs all the trees it can get.
As early as this summer, tree planting may begin as part of the world’s first small-scale forestry project to meet strict Kyoto Protocol requirements for curbing climate change. The project’s validation by the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) last month clears a major technical hurdle to restoring forests not only in China, but elsewhere, as other countries would then be able to model their efforts after China’s work.
Planting Trees in Southwest China
A joint initiative between Conservation International (CI) and The Nature Conservancy, the project will restore damaged forests in the Mountains of Southwest China Biodiversity Hotspot. It calls for planting native tree species on 1,200 acres of degraded land in the remote town of Tengchong and includes support for local communities. Not only will the plan help reconnect heavily divided habitat, the trees planted will also remove approximately 160,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere within the first 30 years of implementation.
The project is located in Yunnan province, a traditionally poor and rural region where newfound economic development has severely strained the environment. Swaths of forests have been destroyed there to feed an exponential growth in furniture, paper, and other timber-based industries. A 1998 logging ban invoked in multiple provinces following disastrous Yangtze River floods that killed thousands of people exacerbates the enormous pressure on companies to acquire trees. Since then, timber imports have skyrocketed.
Although the Chinese government has invested billions of dollars toward forest protection and restoration in the last decade, the programs do not meet Kyoto requirements nor do they take into account biodiversity conservation or aid to communities. CI is working closely with China’s State Forestry Administration and provincial departments to design other reforestation projects that deliver multiple benefits.
“Forest conservation is not just for the sake of ecosystems. It provides a service to the people, and without it they suffer,” says CI-China Director Zhi Lu. “Combined with logging bans and setting up nature reserves, this remarkable step forward will contribute to overall awareness and improvement of the environment in China.”
Project Will Reduce Emissions Over Long Term
Although the new small-scale forestry project will not have an immediate impact on reducing China’s greenhouse gas emissions, its long-term implications will. In the wake of new projections that China will surpass the United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases by 2008, the Tengchong reforestation project provides a solid example to other developing nations on how to comply with rigorous CDM criteria and replicate them.
Among other standards, CDM projects must reduce carbon emissions and assist developing nations in achieving sustainable development. The newly validated methodology will serve as a guide for future projects, which can adopt it at lower cost and get faster CDM approval.
Deforestation Causes Climate Change, Cascading Problems
With climate change on track to surpass habitat loss as the leading threat to biodiversity in the next century, small-scale projects like this present a clear way for governments to combat deforestation and its cascading environmental problems.
Forests play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Their ability to absorb carbon and capture water helps stabilize the atmosphere. Cutting and burning trees accounts for more than 20 percent of all greenhouse gases released into the air – double the amount emitted by the entire transportation sector. As seen in China, deforestation can easily lead to shortages in fresh water, harm to wildlife, and increased flooding.
On the other hand, safeguarding forests can greatly benefit local communities, who need land to survive, but are destroying it for short-term economic gains. In the tropics, millions of acres of rain forest vanish annually from encroaching urbanization and farming. A common agricultural technique called slash and burn – when vegetation is cut, dried, and burned and the land cultivated – prevents growth on the ground for generations once farmers abandon their overworked plots in search of more fertile areas.
Through education and on-the-ground training, CI assists local communities in adopting more eco-friendly farming methods and improving the way forests are managed. By doing so, communities can explore livelihoods that are less harmful to the land and boost their physical well-being with better access to the clean air and water that only healthy forests can provide.
International Commitment to Carbon Forestry
For the past three years, CI has been designing projects that meet international climate mitigation standards and support the biodiversity and communities that live in those regions. CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business is helping to develop conservation carbon projects in China, where multinational companies are increasing their presence and showing interest in investing in China’s forests. In October 2004, the 3M Foundation committed $3 million to support CI’s strategy.
CI is also working with partners to get approval for forestry projects that meet Kyoto standards in Ecuador, Madagascar, and the Philippines.