Protecting Forests: an economic opportunity for developing countries

Over the past two weeks governments, scientists, activists, politicians and lobbyists have been meeting in Katowice, Poland to discuss how to implement the commitments of the Paris Agreement that was signed in 2015. This meeting is “COP24”, referring to the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). This body is charged with bringing together the global community in its efforts to address the pernicious and increasingly evident negative effects of climate change on human populations across the world. The Paris Agreement, signed by 194 states, is an optimistic document that allows countries to decide how much they will do to contribute to the effort, rather than forcing developing nations to compromise their development needs for the sake of reducing emissions too drastically.

The reality check to this optimism is that it has been a depressing year in terms of making progress on dealing with rising greenhouse gas emissions. The recent IPCC Report makes it clear that if we do not limit emissions to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the consequences for human populations will be severe. The report predicts that the increased and ever more extreme weather events will inflict significant economic and social costs on many countries, cities and communities.

At the same time the Fourth National Climate Assessment was published by the United States government assessing the risk of the currently observed climate changes on American populations, and it was unequivocal in its conclusion that climate change is going to have profound impacts on the American economy and society.

We also know that global emissions rose in 2018, and the year ended with carbon dioxide levels at a historic high[1], tempering the feelgood factor initially generated at the conference by Sir David Attenborough who took up the “People’s Seat”, providing a link between the public and policy-makers. His impassioned opening speech went viral on social media and focussed on the need for governments and leaders to be bold in setting in place the right policy pre-conditions for all of us to take the necessary actions to deal with climate change.

But the fact remains that the news about emissions reaching historic levels casts new urgency on the need to finalize the rulebook and begin strengthening the Paris commitments – which basically means agreeing what action is needed and getting on with the work.

It is with this more pragmatic lens that we at Carbon Tanzania follow developments at this and other events, including those relating to our solution to addressing climate change, the protection and sustainable conservation of existing tropical forests. Healthy natural forests directly benefit the communities that live in and around them, providing clean water, fertile soils and forest products like honey, firewood and medicines. Global communities also benefit from their continued existence through their ability to absorb and lock up carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas.

Protecting forests can also be an opportunity for developing country governments thanks to the commitments of the parties to the Paris Agreement, which recognises the approach to conserving these forests, known as REDD+, as a key way of addressing climate change. Developing countries that put in place national policies, strategies, laws and regulations that promote emission reduction activities can qualify for finance from the international community to fund this conservation. A side event at COP24 highlighted one country already moving quickly to exploit this opportunity. The Carbon Pricing Champion Award was awarded to the government of Columbia by IETA and CMIA[2]. Presenting the award, Dirk Forrister, the CEO of IETA said “our award recognises the leadership of the Colombian government in the promotion of carbon pricing and offsetting as instruments to address climate change.” Columbia has developed an integrated package of regulatory mechanisms, technological innovations and robust accounting that allows them to claim payments for the reductions in emissions that they achieve through these actions. For Columbia forest protection is a key element of these actions, showing how sustainable management of natural resources can bring economic benefits equal to or exceeding financial rewards from sheer exploitation.

In Tanzania Carbon Tanzania works with its partner communities and local government authorities to ensure that their efforts to protect natural forests are rewarded with financial benefits that allow for local development plans to be put in place and implemented. In the coming year we will be working ever more closely with the Government of Tanzania. We plan to share our experiences in delivering these forest conservation-based impacts to help the country develop a strategy that will see them, like Columbia, benefit from the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

[1]This refers to measurements of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since records began.

[2]The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and the Climate Markets and Investment Association (CMIA)

Written by Carbon Tanzania Co-Founder Jo Anderson