BIOFUELS BOOM SPURS DEFORESTATION: EFFORTS TO SLOW CLIMATE CHANGE BY USING BIOFUELS AND PLANTING MILLIONS OF TREES FOR CARBON CREDITS HAVE IRONICALLY BROUGHT MAJOR NEW CAUSES OF DEFORESTATION, REPORTS STEPHEN LEAHY
21/03/07, BROOKLIN, CANADA, (IPS/IFEJ)–Nearly 40,000 hectares of forest vanish every day, driven by the world’s growing hunger for timber, pulp and paper, and ironically, new biofuels and carbon credits designed to protect the environment. Growing eagerness to slow climate change by using biofuels and planting millions of trees for carbon credits has ironically resulted in new major causes of deforestation, say activists. This is making climate change worse as deforestation puts far more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire world’s fleet of cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.
“Biofuels are rapidly becoming the main cause of deforestation in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil,” said Simone Lovera, managing coordinator of the Global Forest Coalition, an environmental Nco based in Asuncion, Paraguay. “We call it ‘deforestation diesel’,” Lovera told IPS. Oil from African palm trees is considered to be one of the best, cheapest sources of biodiesel, and energy companies are investing billions to acquire or develop oil-palm plantations in developing countries. Vast tracts of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries have been cleared to grow oil palms. Oil palm has become the world’s number one fruit crop, well ahead of bananas. Biodiesel offers many environmental benefits over diesel from petroleum and reductions in air pollutants, but the enormous global thirst means millions more hectares could be converted into monocultures of oil palm. Getting accurate numbers on how much forest is being lost is very difficult.Slow Climate Change
The FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2007 released in March reports net forest global loss is 20,000 hectares daily, equivalent to an area twice the size of Paris. But, that number includes plantation forests, masking the actual extent of tropical deforestation, about 40,000 hectares (ha) per day, says Matti Palo, forest economics expert, affiliated with the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Costa Rica. “the half a million hectare per year deforestation of Mexico is covered by the increase of forests in the U.S., for example,” Palo said.Slow Climate Change
National governments provide the statistics, but countries like Canada don’t produce anything reliable. Canada has claimed no net change in forests for 15 years despite being the largest producer of pulp and paper. “Canada has a moral responsibility to tell the rest of the world what kind of changes have taken place,” he said. Plantation forests are unlike natural or native forests. More like a maize field, plantation forests are hostile environments to nearly every animal, bird and even insects. Such forests are shown to have a negative impact on the water cycle because non-native, fast-growing trees use high volumes of water. Pesticides are also commonly used to suppress competing growth from other plants and to prevent disease outbreaks, also impacting water quality Plantation forests offer very few employment opportunities, resulting in a net loss of jobs. “Plantation forests are a tremendous disaster for biodiversity and local people,” Lovera said.Slow Climate Change
Even if farmland or savanna are only used for oil palm or other plantations, it often forces local people off the land and into nearby forests, including national parks, which they clear to grow crops, pasture animals and collect firewood. That has been the pattern with pulp and timber plantation forests in much of the world, says Lovera. Ethanol is another major biofuel, made from maize, sugar cane or other crops. As prices for biofuels climb, more land is cleared to grow the crops. U.S. farmers are switching from soy to maize to meet the ethanol demand. That is having a knock on effect of pushing up soy prices and driving the conversion of the Amazon rainforest into soy, she says.Slow Climate Change
Meanwhile rich countries are starting to plant trees to offset their emissions of carbon dioxide. Most of this planting is taking place in the South in the form of plantations, now the latest threat to existing forests. “Europe’s carbon credit market could be disastrous,” Lovera said. the multi-billion-euro European carbon market does not permit use of reforestation projects for carbon credits. But there has been a tremendous surge in private companies offering such credits for tree-planting projects. Very little of this money goes to small land holders. Plantation forests also contain much less carbon, said Palo, citing a recent study showing carbon content of plantation forests in some Asian tropical countries was only 45% of respective natural forests. Nor has the world community been able to properly account for the value of the enormous volumes of carbon stored in existing forests. A recent estimate found the northern Boreal forest provides $250 billion yearly in ecosystem services e.g. absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere and cleaning water.Slow Climate Change
The good news is, deforestation, even in remote areas, is easily stopped. All it takes is access to low-cost satellite imagery and governments that want to slow or halt deforestation. Costa Rica has nearly eliminated deforestation by making it illegal to convert forest into farmland, says Lovera. Paraguay enacted similar laws in 2004, and regularly checked satellite images of its forests, sending forestry officials and police to enforce the law where it was being violated. “Deforestation has been reduced by 85% in less than two years in the eastern part of the country,” Lovera noted. Part of the solution is to give control over forests to local people. The community-model forest concept has proved sustainable in many parts of the world. India recently passed a bill returning the bulk of its forests back to local communities for management. But, economic interests pushing deforestation in countries like Brazil and Indonesia are so powerful, there may eventually be little natural forest left. “Governments are beginning to realise their natural forests have enormous value left standing,” Lovera said. “A moratorium or ban on deforestation is the only way to stop this.”Slow Climate Change.
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