REDD shouldn't neglect biodiversity say scientists
Schemes to mitigate climate change by protecting tropical forests must take into account biodiversity conservation, said two leading scientific organizations at the conclusion of a four day meeting in Marburg, Germany.
The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) and the Society for Tropical Ecology (GTOE) jointly issued a "Marburg Declaration" highlighting the dangers of excluding biodiversity from emissions mitigation strategies like the proposed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) mechanism, which could direct billions of dollars annually to forest conservation initiatives. The risk is that REDD developers may focus efforts where land is the cheapest and most carbon-dense, leaving other biologically-rich ecosystems exposed to degradation or destruction. In some cases REDD could even bias conservation decisions against low-carbon ecosystems that are important reservoirs of plant and animal life.
"If we're going to limit harmful climate change, we simply must reduce the rampant destruction of tropical forests, which spews 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year," said William Laurance, former ATBC president and a professor at James Cook University in Australia. "But it's not enough just to reduce carbon emissions - we also have to save imperiled species."
"The most critically endangered species are not in Amazonia," said Priya Davidar, current ATBC president and a professor at the University of Pondicherry in India. "They're in the last surviving scraps of forest in places like the Philippines, Magagascar, India, West Africa, and the Andean Mountains of South America. These places are biodiversity hotspots - final refuges for thousands of endangered plants and animals."
"There's enormous potential to help protect vanishing forests with carbon money, but if we're not careful we could squander our chance to save critically endangered wildlife."
Due to the technical and financial hurdles to establishing a qualifying project, REDD currently favors large projects over small community-based initiatives. The implication is that forest fragments - often the last vestiges of forest in species-rich regions such as Madagascar, West Africa, the Brazilian Atlantic forest, and small islands - are less likely to see benefits from the mechanism. Although there have been some efforts to integrate these forest islands into broader projects, but success is by no means assured. Similarly, while there are emerging standards, like the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Project Design Standards, for forest carbon projects, it is still unclear whether biodiversity conservation be a key priority during negotiations of the post-Kyoto climate treaty. Signees of the "Marburg Declaration" want to make it one.
Manfred Niekisch, president of the GTOE and director of the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany, says that companies and countries should also be encouraged to consider biodiversity when supporting forest carbon initiatives.
"We urge all nations and corporations to invest in carbon funds to help preserve disappearing forests," said Manfred Niekisch, president of the GTOE and director of the Frankfurt Zoo in Germany. "But when you do so, pay a little extra so you're protecting the most imperiled habitats. That way we can slow global warming and also save some of the most amazing and imperiled wildlife on earth."