Deforestation and carbon emissions

Worth paying to safeguard the tropical forests

Michael McCarthy names and shames “the world’s biggest polluters” (11 March) according to their carbon-dioxide emissions. He gives figures to show that the big two are China and the USA, each releasing about six billion tonnes annually. Russia, India and Japan follow with one to two billion tonnes each.

But these numbers take no account of deforestation and land degradation, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates to yield up to a quarter of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Standing forest contains up to 1,500 tonnes of carbon per hectare, and peat-lands around five times as much.

If the figures are corrected for these sources, then Indonesia’s deforestation rate of up to a million hectares each year makes it the third-greatest GHG emitter, right after China and the US. This in turn means that any deal to fix climate change must include fair and effective ways to stop deforestation and land degradation in the tropics. Indonesia has hundreds of proposed protected areas, containing millions of hectares of forest and peat-land. Fully and verifiably securing them should be rewarded by payments from carbon markets and other global mechanisms.

Not least because, as reported in 2008 by the Policy Exchange, “this method of reducing GHG emissions is dramatically cheaper than all other mitigation technologies currently available”. It may be hard work for our diplomats, but saving the Earth is worth it.

Julian Caldecott, published in The Independent, 18 March 2009.