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id21 viewpoint - Tree plantations and climate change: avoiding responsibility in Ecuador

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Patricia Granda
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Over 345 million hectares of land globally could be forested or re-forested to help combat global warming. The Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, has established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to support such initiatives. But do these programmes tackle the real causes of climate change?The CDM allows industrialised countries and organisations
to fund projects in developing countries aiming to contribute to reducing GHG
emissions. These projects are attractive to developing country governments because
they offer foreign income, and to industrialised organisations for their low
land and labour costs.
Companies or
governments with high emission levels can fund CDM projects that either increase
carbon sinks (such as tree plantations) or expand existing carbon reservoirs
(such as forest conservation). The idea is that by maintaining reservoirs or increasing
sinks, a company is compensating for its own carbon emissions; however, this relationship
has not been fully demonstrated.
There are other problems with tree plantation projects. Research
by Acción Ecológica,
Ecuador and the World
Rainforest Movement examines the social and environmental impacts of CDM tree
plantation projects in the Ecuadorian Sierra, such as the FACE-PROFAFOR.
Problems with tree planting CDM projects include:
Many
projects do not consider the environmental costs of tree plantations, such as the loss of water and
destruction of primary ecosystems.
Despite a commitment to plant native tree
species, some projects plant non-local species that destroy water systems and
soil structure.
The actual reduction of carbon in the atmosphere
is low, as non-native trees do not grow well in a foreign environment and extra
carbon is released through soil degradation
Local people do not always benefit from
economic, social and environmental gains. For example, funds provided by overseas companies do not always cover the costs
involved and local communities have to contribute their own resources to
maintain plantations.
The CDM is a false solution to climate change and there
are fundamental problems with the scheme. The idea does not attack the problem of excessive consumption of fossil
fuels: industrialised countries use the CDM to avoid reducing their own GHG
emissions. It is also impossible to accurately determine the exact quantities
of atmospheric carbon sequestered through afforestation projects.
Furthermore, the
targets set for emissions reduction are inadequate. The 1990 emissions levels,
which are used as a baseline against which to measure progress, are arbitrary.
The CDM sets a target of a 5.2 percent reduction of emissions. However, many
studies maintain that for this reduction to have a real impact on the climate
problem, the figure should be set at no less than 70 percent of the levels released
15 years ago.
The CDM framework
enables industrialised countries to implement projects in developing countries
and avoid reducing GHGs at the source. As an
alternative, the research suggests:

CDM
funding resources should be urgently shifted towards an energy transition
strategy.
Researchers
should focus more on analysing the impacts of plantations on land tenure
and resource access for local inhabitants.