China’s national climate action plan will drive down emissions in part by ramping up the country’s already massive tree-planting programs. But scientists are still haggling over how ambitious to call the land-use target. China released the plan this week.
This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.
1 July 2015 | China will increase its forest stock by 4.5 billion cubic meters by 2030 if the country meets its proposed climate plan, released this week to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The plan, known in climate negotiator speak as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or “INDC”, lays out the country’s intention to peak its greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2030 while making “best efforts to peak early.”
China’s commitment sets a year – 2030 – by which the country’s annual emissions must end their upward creep, but it doesn’t specify the altitude of this emissions summit – though multiple projections suggest it will likely be around 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). In a “business as usual” scenario, researchers predict that China’s emissions would peak sometime between 2030 and 2040, between 12 billion and 14 billion tonnes, according to the World Resources Institute.
The emissions reductions goal was no surprise, since China’s INDC mirrored its half of the historic agreement it struck with the United States in November. But the target of lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% under 2005 levels was new, as was the specific target on forests.
China’s INDC states that the country aims to “vigorously enhance afforestation, promoting voluntary tree planting by all citizens” while reducing “deforestation-related” emissions.
Forest and land use experts were tentatively excited about the inclusion of land-use in China’s INDC, though they’re still trying to parse out what exactly the tree-planting goal means.
“I was happy to see the INDC mention reducing the impacts of natural disturbances and improving their measurement methodologies over time,” said Pipa Elias, Senior Policy Advisor at The Nature Conservancy.
Under the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, China set a goal of lowering carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40% to 45% from 2005 levels, in part by bumping up the country’s forested area by 40 million hectares and increasing the forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters. According to its climate plan, as of 2014 China was well on its way to meeting this land-use goal, with 21.6 million hectares reforested.
However, the INDC does not specify the hectare equivalence of the new 4.5-billion-cubic-meters target, and presumably some of this increase would occur in a “business as usual” scenario as the forests that have already been planted grow. Scientists are still doing the math on additionality, but the sense so far is that the commitment does indeed go beyond the Copenhagen Accord – the question is by how much.
China’s land-use sector is already a net carbon sink domestically, but its consumers’ demand for agricultural commodities is putting pressure on tropical forests in Brazil, Indonesia, Myanmar, and many other countries. China purchases 60% of the soy and 34% of the leather produced by tropical forest countries, according to the Forest 500, a project that ranks governments and companies on ‘forest-risk’ commodities. These Chinese imports are often produced at the expense of forests elsewhere.
Doug Boucher, Director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the presence of land-sector actions in China’s INDC is a good thing, but the country could and should also pay more attention to its domestic agricultural sector.
“Despite China’s progress with land sector emissions, its agricultural emissions are the largest in the world,” he said in a statement. “There is ample scope for China to curb agricultural emissions, particularly nitrous oxide from excessive fertilizer use and methane from rice production.”
China’s INDC does aim for “zero growth” in fertilizer and pesticide use by 2020.
“It is critical for countries like China to increase the efficiency of their agricultural systems to reduce the climate impact of growing food, but do so in a way that generates positive environmental and social outcomes,” said Elias.
China currently has seven jurisdictional carbon markets and plans to launch a national cap-and-trade program in 2016 that would be second in size only to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. Offsets from non-regulated sectors, known as Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions, are used to cover 5-10% of compliance entities’ emissions obligations in the pilot programs – a mechanism that will likely be carried over to the national program. Four new CCER methodologies target emissions from forestry and land use.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in climate finance have been pledged to helping indigenous people manage their territories, but all of that money is currently trapped in intermediaries. Here's how the Amazon's largest federation of indigenous organizations aims to change that.
This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.
24 June 2015 | BONN/BARCELONA | Indigenous leader Juan Carlos Jintiach says he was ecstatic when governments around the world pledged $1 billion to end deforestation at last year's climate summit in New York. He especially liked Norway's pledge of $20 million per year to help indigenous people secure their rights. But he also knew what would happen next, as NGOs around the world quickly submitted proposals, and Norway issued a short-list of 53 finalists.
"In the end, only five indigenous organizations were invited to present final proposals," says Jintiach, who at the time had just stepped down as Director for Economic Development of pan-Amazonian indigenous federation COICA.
"That's how it always is," he says. "We'll be talking to governments directly, and asking them why they always have these bilateral government-to-government discussions, and then we'll see $100 million change hands, and we'll say, 'What's that for?', and they'll say, 'That's for indigenous people.'"
Chris Meyer of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) says that at least $50 million in funding linked to reduced deforestation or "REDD+ finance" has already been allocated for indigenous people, but it's in limbo, scattered among the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the UN-REDD Program, and the Forest Investment Program – and that's after he deducts 20% for administration and overhead.
"It's not that the programs are doing anything nefarious," he says. "It's just that they're bureaucratic and need to see a lot of things happen before they can release money."
"I understand their reasoning," says Jintiach. "They can't just dump a bunch of money on us – I understand the need for accountability – but I think we can deliver that accountability."
In the last few years of his tenure, Jintiach had a front-row seat at the "grant games", as COICA teamed up with NGOs like EDF, Woods Hole Research Center, and even Ecosystem Marketplace publisher Forest Trends to secure direct funding from large donors like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is supporting COICA and a consortium of NGOs (including Forest Trends) under a program called AIME, which among other things helps indigenous people position themselves for REDD+ finance.
Current COICA director Edwin Vásquez Campos has been working to ready the organization and its members for REDD+ finance, and at mid-year climate talks in Bonn, COICA's head of Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity, Jorge Furagaro Kuetgaje, announced the creation of an Indigenous Amazon Fund, which is the brainchild of COICA consultant Roberto Espinoza and is designed to act as a kind of central bank for indigenous people across the Amazon.
Two weeks later, Campos announced that COICA would also seek to establish a more forceful presence in multilateral organizations like the Governors' Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force, which is a network of subnational governments and governors working to address climate-change multilaterally.
At the GCF annual meeting in Barcelona, COICA was joined by Central America's AMPB, the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.
"We believe we share many common characteristics and core beliefs with the jurisdictions represented in the GCF," the AMPB declaration stated. "We actively participate in the region´s REDD+ processes, emphasizing the importance of community forest rights, and offering our experiences as key lessons and cornerstones for addressing deforestation in our jurisdictions."
COICA's statement was more prescriptive and called for active indigenous participation in the development of national climate action plans, or INDCs (Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions), and asked for a signed agreement with the GCF recognizing COICA participation in strategic planning and implementation.
Jintiach, who now is an analyst in COICA's Economic Development Cooperation, says the Indigenous Amazon Fund is being created based on feedback from donor nations and with support from EDF and other NGOs.
"Juan Carlos raised this issue with us last year, when we were working with him on the indigenous mapping project [which was announced at climate talks in Lima]," says EDF's Meyer. "He's been working with us ever since to see how we implement it, and also talking to donors to get a better feel for what they look for."
The fund proposal will be refined at a series of COICA meetings, beginning in August, but Jintiach and Meyer both say some basic ground-rules have already been established.
"One thing is clear: COICA won't be running it," says Jintiach. "We're spearheading it, but we're not a bank, and we don't want to become one, and donors won't want that, either."
Based on donor feedback, COICA and others are now suggesting the creation of a non-profit entity, with an independent board of directors as well as an advisory board, says Meyer.
"This is still nebulous and to be determined, but there is this window in the next six months for indigenous leaders to consult among themselves and figure out what they want," he says. "With COICA, we need to help to build a lot of capacity to understand how these administrative mechanism funds work, based on existing intermediary funds like Funbio (the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund), and we can then help them create a proposal that's hopefully good enough for Norway to say, 'OK, we're going to put whatever is left [of the $100 million pledged] directly into this indigenous fund, and hopefully get other countries to contribute to it as well.'"
"Once the fund exists, if donors want to give to indigenous peoples, we can say, 'Here is a fund for indigenous peoples,'" says Jintiach. "If they need to see transparency, we can say, 'Here are the books.'"
Although REDD+ finance was the impetus for creating the fund, it's ultimately designed to handle banking, loans, and other financing operations.
"Something like Canopy Bridge, which is a platform for indigenous producers to market their products, could be supported through the fund," says Meyer.
"Exactly," adds Jintiach. "In Ecuador, we developed an indigenous cacao cooperative, but the benefits go to intermediaries, because the banks, they ask for lots of requirements that we as indigenous people find difficult."
He says an Indigenous Amazon Fund would better be able to assess indigenous programs for their viability because it would be run by people who understand indigenous business practices.
"We need a financial institution that understands how our economies work on the ground," he says. "Our people need to develop their own economies."
Jintiach expects to have a formal proposal by the end of August, and Meyer estimates the start-up costs at less than $1 million.
"This is really for the next generation," says Jintiach. "For my generation, this kind of finance was all new to us, but kids today understand its importance. They're the ones who will move this forward."
When the Hadza hunter-gatherer people of northern Tanzania decided to slow deforestation in the Yaeda Valley, they turned to carbon markets. First, they had to do something they'd never done before: secure rights to the land they had been inhabiting for for 40,000 years.
This article was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.
17 June 2015 | “Those are things of your white people,” says Richard Baalow when I ask him how he plans to sell his carbon offsets to corporate leaders.
Baalow is a member of a hunter-gatherer group called the Hadza, known as the “last of the first” – the approximately 1600 remaining members of the first known people to live in what is now Tanzania. He’s traveled from his homeland, the Yaeda Valley, to Arusha to speak to me via Skype.
“Us Africans know that our side of the world is clean,” he says. “Meanwhile, you white people know that your side of the world is spoiled, because you’re destroying the environment. That’s why you bring the carbon market to us. That’s why we say, ‘Welcome, Carbon Tanzania, and bring money!’ That’s the long and short of it.”
But the long story is worth telling, too.
Even before Baalow met Marc Baker and Jo Anderson of the Arusha-based non-profit organization Carbon Tanzania, he had heard about REDD through the Dutch’s government’s presence in Tanzania. The acronym stands for “reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation” of forests, and it’s applied to a broad range of activities that cut greenhouse gas emissions by saving endangered rainforest. Communities like his can earn money for the carbon they keep locked in trees, and Baalow was eager to learn how the Hadza could participate.
The Hadza, whose culture can be traced back 40,000 years, have lost about 90% of their traditional homelands. As a non-aggressive hunter-gatherer group, “their response has always been to move. Just get out of the way,” explained Baker. The Hadza moved out of the way 3,000 years ago during the Bantu expansion throughout West Africa. They moved out of the way again about 300 years ago, for the Maasai.
Today, pressure is coming from Sakuma farmers and Datooga pastoralists, or herders. Habitat for the mammals that the Hadza hunt with bows and arrows – everything from giraffe to zebra to baboons to bats – is dwindling. The Hadza needed a plan, and getting paid to conserve the natural resource base they live off of sounded like a good one.
“There is a new food for the world, and it’s called REDD,” Baalow said.
Before the Hadza could earn money for the carbon stored in the Yaeda Valley, they had to prove that they owned the land they had been living off of for millennia – and establishing that ownership could provide benefits well beyond the carbon income.
“Before this project, nobody had any rights,” Baalow said.
Land reforms of the 1990s led the Hadza to formalize two “villages” so that they could secure communal land rights under the Ministry of Lands. But by 2009, so many outsiders had moved into the villages that the majority of the representatives on the Village Council were non-Hadza. Baalow began working alongside legal advisor Edward Lakita at the Ujaama Community Resource Team on a different solution.
They decided to try a legal instrument called the Certificate of Customary Rights of Occupancy (CCRO) that had previously been used in Tanzania to formalize land rights for individuals. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), another partner in the project, paid for lawyers and meetings. It took years, but the Hadza eventually convinced the Tanzanian government to issue a CCRO to an entire community. In 2011, the Ministry of Lands issued the first-ever group CCRO, and the Hadza’s ownership of 20,000 hectares was finally on the books.
“Without that security of land tenure and resource tenure, you couldn’t begin to think about a 20-year carbon project, because at the current rate we’d have pastoralists moving all through this system,” said Matt Brown, TNC’s Africa Director. “The Hadza basically would have lost a lot more of their homeland, so securing the land legally through these CCROs is just absolutely critical.”
Baalow has traveled to several international indigenous peoples forums to speak about the process, and the Ujaama Community Resource Team has since worked with about 20 communities in Northern Tanzania to secure community land rights in the same way. Several of those CCROs went to the Sakuma and the Datooga – the neighboring groups who themselves were being pushed into Hadza territory partly because of insecure land rights.
“There’s this chain reaction,” said Brown.
The CCRO serves as the first-ever land-use plan for the Hadza.
“As I see it, the CCRO has designated rights for different community user groups – the hunters, the farmers, and the pastoralists,” Baalow explained.
The various land-use rights are based on practical considerations. Flat areas with higher organic soil content and less exposure to easterly winds are designated for agriculture. Wooded areas around important water sources are designated as protected. And so on. These “zones” do not impose on the Hadza’s way of life – they are still no fences, no permanent settlements – but they do guide decision-making around land-use within the Yaeda Valley, and they give the village governments parameters when granting farming areas to outsiders.
“REDD is the distinction between plan and no plan,” Baker said. “It’s about getting land use planning in place so when the wave of agriculture or charcoal hits, people have got rights, they’ve got value, and they’ve got an understanding of how the law works so you can actually plan where the deforestation is going to happen.”
The REDD-based land-use plan now covers more than 27,000 hectares. It would take a few days to walk across the project area.
Now that the Hadza had secured their land rights, the next step was quantifying the carbon in the Yaeda Valley landscape. This was where TNC offered the most technical assistance – and where things get a little geeky.
The TNC team started with Landsat aerial imagery of the valley available through the U.S. Geological Survey, which captures the landscape at 30-meter resolution. For some areas, they used Google Earth to fill in gaps. TNC then sent out a team to take photographs at 100 different sites on the ground and manually classify them as different types of land uses: woodlands, agriculture, etcetera. They used the photographs to “train” a computer program to classify the entire map.
“We did that for 2013 and then we used the same points and looked at the 2000 imagery and basically were able to figure out what areas had gone from natural grassland or natural forest into some degraded state,” said Brown.
The verdict? The rate of forest loss in the Hadza territory was about on par with forest degradation in Tanzania as a whole – about 1% per year. This is the baseline for the “business-as-usual” scenario.
The Carbon Tanzania team followed up this work with a carbon stock assessment that involved going out into the field and measuring trees to figure out the amount of carbon stored in the African savannah woodland forest. It hadn’t been done before, so the team developed a new statistical program to determine the carbon stored in different tree species. The Hadza helped with the physical tree measurements and with identifying plants.
At the end of the study, they estimated that, at the current degradation rate, the landscape would release more than 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere annually. The majority of the aboveground carbon in the Yaeda Valley is stored in these acacia trees, according to Baker, so the fact that land-use planning protects and maps these trees can result in “a massive carbon saving.” Through REDD, the Hadza could earn sellable “offsets” for preventing that loss.
The Yaeda Valley Carbon Tanzania project is developed under the Plan Vivo carbon standard, which focuses on community-led projects benefitting smallholders. To date, the project has earned 48,033 Plan Vivo certificates, each representing one tonne of CO2.
Buyers include National Geographic Travel and Abercrombie & Kent, as well as local tourism companies such as Dorobo, Map’s Edge, and Nature Discovery that do safaris or adventure treks in the region. Carbon Tanzania also works with international carbon offset retailers, including U.S.-based Native Energy and Sustainable Travel International and Sweden-based ZeroMission. The not-for-profit is in the process of hiring a business development manager who will focus full-time on sales now that the project is up and running.
“For the vast majority of projects, like ours, the sales element is critical,” Baker said. “If we can’t make payments, then of course the model starts to disintegrate.”
Under the Plan Vivo standard, at least 60% of revenues from the carbon sales go directly to the community. The remaining 40% is split between project monitoring and overhead. REDD payments reach the Hadza through M-PESA, a mobile phone money transfer system used widely in Tanzania. The most recent revenue of 21,550,000 Tanzania shillings (about $10,200 USD) from carbon offset sales between May and October of 2014 was split evenly between the two villages in the project area – Domanga and Mongo wa Mono. Going forward, Carbon Tanzania expects to generate $60,000 for the communities annually.
The Hadza use the money to pay the wages of 20 scouts that patrol the protected area, gathering data and documenting any illegal poaching or land incursions, as well as two village coordinators. Between 2013 and 2014, these scouts dealt with nine instances of cattle incursion and seven instances of poaching – though poaching instances involving guns have been reduced to zero. Aside from the scout salaries, the communities meet every six months to decide how to collectively spend the remainder from the carbon payments – usually on maize meal and school fees. They’ve also set up a medical fund that acts as community insurance, covering medical expenses for first-time mothers.
“The biggest benefit to come from Carbon Tanzania is that the communities have seen the value of environmental conservation and are able to earn money by conserving nature,” said Baalow.
Now that the project is in its fourth year, the Hadza have gained confidence that REDD payments actually will flow – and that monetizing carbon has led to many other outcomes that have non-monetary values such as land security, biodiversity protection, and a reduction of conflict between farmers and pastoralists, according to Baker.
“The money has value to the Hadza in terms of reducing stress on the culture,” he said, comparing it to a pension fund in Western terms. “They feel secure.”
Carbon Tanzania is in the process of expanding the Yaeda Valley project to cover more land area and is also working on a new REDD project in the Makame Wildlife Management Area, with the Maasai.
“We are not sitting around waiting for some global agreement to emerge,” he said, referring to the international climate talks coming up in Paris this December. “It’s far too important to wait for governments to do anything.”
Watch a video about the Carbon Tanzania project here: