Natural forests key to Kyoto


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During the 1990s, loss of forest cover and logging in the tropics accounted for 10 – 20% of all global green house gas emissions. Forest fires contributed an additional sum. In fact, the amount of carbon released by deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia into the atmosphere each year equals 80% of the total carbon emissions the Kyoto Protocol plans to reduce during its first commitment period from 2008 to 2012.

Six leading Brazilian and American scientists have launched a new call for rich nations to pay tropical countries to reduce deforestation to slow global warming. In an editorial essay in Climatic Change titled ’Tropical Deforestation and the Kyoto Protocol’ they argue that this could effectively lower carbon emissions, conserve biodiversity, and build political support for the Kyoto Protocol.

The authors propose that tropical countries that agree to reduce their deforestation below some baseline level should be allowed to sell carbon certificates to governments or companies that want carbon credits. This would be similar to the certificates for reforestation activities currently permitted under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). However, they would include both natural forests and plantations and they would be for entire countries, not specific projects. The baseline levels used to measure progress would be set through negotiations, taking into account both historical levels and each country’s particularities.

Ultimately, the authors argue, for the Kyoto Protocol to survive and be effective some way must be found to limit developing countries’ carbon emissions after the first commitment period ends in 2012. Countries like China, India, and Brazil account for a significant and growing percentage of global carbon emissions, and there has to be some way to take that into account. At the same time, it is not fair to ask countries that have much smaller per capita emissions than the developed countries to limit those emissions without being compensated. This proposal would provide one way to compensate developing countries for their efforts.

None of the paper’s arguments are entirely new. However, the authors’ proposal is more developed than earlier ones and comes at a time when countries are increasingly looking towards what rules will apply during Kyoto’s 2nd commitment period beginning in 2012. You can bet many people will be talking about it the next time the countries sit down to negotiate at the up-coming Convention of the Parties (COP) in Montreal.

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Further reading

To request a free electronic copy of the paper or to send comments or queries to the authors you can write Steve Schwartzman at: or Paulo Moutinho at:

The full reference of the article is: Santilli, M., P. Moutinho, S. Schwartzman, D Nepstad, L. Curran, and C. Nobre. 2005. Tropical Deforestation and the Kyoto Protocol, an Editorial Essay, Climatic Change, 71: 267-76.