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Fresh bid to protect forests

Fresh bid to protect forests

Cambodia has formally joined a UN programme that helps nations develop the capacity to reduce emissions from deforestation, the United Nations confirmed Thursday.

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, operates on the principle that the world’s forests are the greatest single offset to human-generated carbon emissions, now widely accepted as the primary cause of climate change. By preserving these forests, developing countries earn credits (measured in metric tonnes of sequestered carbon) that can be sold on a global market.

Suwanna Gauntlett, president of Cambodian environmental NGO Wildlife Alliance, said that a sequestration-based carbon credit system was ideally suited to the Kingdom. “Cambodia is the country in Southeast Asia with the most forest left. When we arrived in 2000, 60 percent of Cambodia’s ground cover was forested.”

Wildlife Alliance focuses its work on the remote Cardamom Mountains of southwestern Cambodia, where vast tracts of forest still remain. There, Gauntlett says, commercial land development is a far more destructive and widespread cause of deforestation than logging.

There are many, many approaches people take. they think it will go unnoticed.

Gauntlett described how a boom in land prices, stoked by the shrinking pool of private property on the market, drove Cambodian entrepreneurs to carve out illegal plots of government-owned forest, situated conveniently far away from the eyes, or cares, of the law.
“There are many, many approaches people take,” Gauntlett said. “They think it will go unnoticed … they have no permit, no paperwork.” Gauntlett recounts various stories from the field. One concerns a billboard at the entrance to the only stretch of national highway with rainforest on either side, which published a number to call for people who wanted to buy land in the Cardamoms. Wildlife Alliance intervened and had the sign replaced with a forest protection message. Soon enough, however, banners appeared in restaurants all over Koh Kong province with the same phone number.

The stubborn, elusive sources of forest degradation make the REDD programme especially attractive, since revenues from carbon credits can be poured back into forest sites in the form of additional rangers with better training.

Last month, the Seima Protected Forest in Mondulkiri – drawn with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society – became the first REDD-based wildlife preserve officially declared by the Council of Ministers. Pact Cambodia is due to launch its REDD project in Oddar Meanchey province some time in the coming months. Wildlife Alliance has also proposed a REDD forest area in the Southern Cardamoms.

While these and other such projects are at different stages in terms of assessing carbon stocks and connecting with carbon brokers, none have yet sold their credits on the current “voluntary” market.

A conference in Copenhagen this December will begin discussing a formalised “compliance” market expected to yield higher prices for carbon.

According to a statement issued by UN-REDD on Wednesday, however, the carbon credit market may “eventually generate up to $30 billion a year in financial flows from rich countries to poor nations to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions”.

The UN Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which co-sponsor the UN-REDD Programme, were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

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