Paying to save tropical forests could be a way to reduce global carbon emissions

Jul 23, 2008

Wealthy nations willing to collectively spend about $1 billion annually could prevent the emission of roughly half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for the next 25 years, new research suggests.

It would take about that much money to put an end to a tenth of the tropical deforestation in the world, one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, researchers estimate.

If adopted, this type of program could have potential to reduce global carbon emissions by between 2 and 10 percent.

The calculation is one of several estimates described by a team of scientists and economists this week in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The calculations, based on three different forestry and land-use models, provide the best estimates so far of how much it would cost developed nations to participate in a program called "avoided deforestation" to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.

Under such a program, wealthy nations would help achieve reduced emissions globally by paying landowners in developing nations not to cut down wide swaths of forested land to make way for agricultural uses. Tropical deforestation, the cutting and burning of trees to convert land to grow crops and raise livestock, accounts for about a fifth of all human-caused carbon emissions in the world.

The research attaches estimated dollar amounts to each metric ton of carbon that could be saved through avoided deforestation in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia.

Based on these estimates, the overall cost to buy carbon credits would be lower than what developed nations would expect to pay to reduce emissions through regulation of industry, transportation and energy sources, said Brent Sohngen, a study co-author and professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State University.

"Compared to other options, an avoided deforestation program would be relatively cheap and practical for the United States," said Sohngen, who developed one of three models used to calculate the estimates. "It would save American taxpayers money and provide a huge transfer of funding from one region of the world to another, giving developing countries a larger chunk of the world's economic pie to use as they see fit."

The three models used to calculate the estimates are called the Global Timber Model, developed by Sohngen; the Dynamic Integrated Model of Forestry and Alternative Land Use, developed at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria; and the Generalized Comprehensive Mitigation Assessment Process Model, developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

The models employ different economic and biological assumptions to reach their respective deforestation and carbon-emission projections. Each model takes into account changes expected to occur over time, especially incentives for deforestation relating to demand for agricultural land based on changes in population, income and technology.

"The results indicate that substantial emission reductions could be accomplished through 2030, the period we examined," Sohngen said.

For example, according to the models, carbon credits costing $20 per metric ton would result in average global carbon dioxide emission reductions of between 1.6 billion and 4.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. At higher prices, the emission reductions go up substantially. At $100 per metric ton of carbon, the models predict an avoided deforestation program would yield emission reductions of between 3.1 billion and 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon annually.

Looking at a hypothetical program another way, the researchers used the models to estimate prices based on avoided deforestation goals. For example, the cost to achieve a 10 percent reduction in global deforestation through 2030, resulting in between 0.3 billion and 0.6 billion metric tons of reduced carbon emissions annually, would cost between $2 and $5 per metric ton of carbon credit – or between $0.4 billion and $1.7 billion per year. Achieving a 50 percent reduction in deforestation, and a corresponding 1.5 billion to 2.7 billion metric ton reduction in emissions each year, would cost $10 to $21 per metric ton, or between $17.2 billion and $28 billion per year, according to the model calculations.

By comparison, the United States emits an estimated 6 billion tons of carbon each year.

The researchers also estimated how per-ton carbon prices would translate into land rental prices in tropical regions. Carbon at $2 per ton could translate into rental values of $20 to $35 per hectare per year, and carbon prices of $10 per ton would trigger land rental values of $85 to $252 per hectare annually. A hectare equals the area of 2.5 acres. About 13 million hectares of land per year continue to be lost to deforestation.

"These payment levels could generate substantial financial flows to landowners who reduce deforestation," Sohngen said. "If this kind of program could stop deforestation, it would provide a bigger source of biodiversity by retaining a larger stock of tropical forest, keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and provide money to people in developing countries to pursue new forms of livelihood that don't involve cutting down trees."

The avoided deforestation cost estimates could be used in negotiations toward an updated global program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, similar to the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997 and subject to enforcement in 2005. The United States has not signed that treaty, which has been ratified by 182 parties, including 137 developing countries and 36 developed countries, plus the European Union.

The Kyoto Protocol included avoided deforestation as a potential method of reducing global carbon emissions, but "it just didn't pick up any steam at that time," Sohngen said. "There were lots of constraints within the Kyoto treaty about using land-use options to abate carbon emissions. It looks like there is a large effort now to try to relax some of those constraints in order to allow avoided deforestation to be considered as a carbon abatement mechanism."

In recent years, developing nations, especially Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, have begun pushing for a program that would allow the purchase of carbon credits to preserve native forests.

"Now, there is a huge debate about it, and our paper is just trying to add one economic component to the discussion," Sohngen said. "If we're talking about the source of at least 20 percent of the world's emissions that can be cheaply abated, then why wouldn't we do it? If we don't spend the money to offer these countries development assistance, they're going to continue deforesting, so their emissions are just going to continue."

Source: Ohio State University

Explore further: Study to inform Maryland decision on "fracking"

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Peru's carbon quantified: Economic and conservation boon

Jul 30, 2014

Today scientists unveiled the first high-resolution map of the carbon stocks stored on land throughout the entire country of Perú. The new and improved methodology used to make the map marks a sea change ...

Making progress on deforestation

Jun 24, 2014

In 2005, Brazil was losing more forest each year than any other country. The good news is that today, Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 70 percent, according to a recent study. ...

Recommended for you

NASA image: Signs of deforestation in Brazil

7 minutes ago

Multiple fires are visible in in this image of the Para and Mato Grosso states of Brazil. Many of these were most likely intentionally set in order to deforest the land. Deforestation is the removal of a ...

Sunblock poses potential hazard to sea life

42 minutes ago

The sweet and salty aroma of sunscreen and seawater signals a relaxing trip to the shore. But scientists are now reporting that the idyllic beach vacation comes with an environmental hitch. When certain sunblock ...

Is falling recycling rate due to 'green fatigue'?

1 hour ago

It's been suggested that a recent fall in recycling rates is due to green fatigue, caused by the confusing number of recycling bins presented to householders for different materials. Recycling rates woul ...

Study to inform Maryland decision on "fracking"

3 hours ago

The Maryland Department of Environment and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released on August 18, 2014, a report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health, which assesses the potential ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JerryPark
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 23, 2008
The AGW madness continues unabated.

The goal of preserving the diversity of life contained in tropical rain forests is a reasonable goal. Spending billions to bribe countries not to create CO2 is madness.
ofidiofile
3 / 5 (4) Jul 24, 2008
The goal of preserving the diversity of life contained in tropical rain forests is a reasonable goal. Spending billions to bribe countries not to create CO2 is madness.


i don't see how it's madness, when they already grow our beef and sugar on cleared jungle. after all, we pay farmers here to grow food that won't be eaten. why not pay brazilians carbon subsidies?
TenneyNaumer
not rated yet Jul 28, 2008
$1 billion is a joke here in Brazil. Every few days (and I am not exaggerating!), a new scandal is uncovered where officials are embezzling at least a billion reals (at present exchange rates more than 1/2 a billion dollars).

$1 billion is a drop in the bucket around here -- it won't do anything but put more money into the pockets of the corrupt politicians that rule in the Amazon region. They will take it and laugh.

Brazil ties with Nigeria in level of corruption -- don't be fulled by samba and soccer.
TenneyNaumer
not rated yet Jul 28, 2008
hahaha, what an error!

I meant to write: "don't be fooled by samba and soccer."
atom7
not rated yet Aug 02, 2008
Considering world military expenditure in 2006 is estimated to have reached US$1204 billion maybe it's time we got our priorities right and start spending money on the things that will help. 1/2 a billion tonnes is a small drop but at least it's a start.