illage communities in Western Kenya alongside ones in Niger, Nigeria and China could become the key to unlocking the multi-billion dollar carbon markets for millions of farmers, foresters and conservationists across the developing world.
Catchments in and around Lake Victoria have been chosen as a test-bed for calculating how much carbon can be stored in trees and soils when the land is managed in a sustainable, climate-friendly ways.
The initiative, known as the Carbon Benefits Project, was launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Agroforestry Centre, along with a range of other key partners. The project is being funded by the Global Environment Facility.
Under the United Nation’s climate convention and its Kyoto Protocol, developed countries can offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions by paying developing economies for implementing clean and renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
In December 2009, at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, nations may decide to also pay to tropically-forested countries for maintaining standing forests under a scheme known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).
This is because up to 20 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions linked with climate change is coming from deforestation—more than from cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.
UNEP, along with the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Development Programme, is working with nine developing nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Panama in preparation for the inclusion of REDD in a future agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.
By some estimates a country like Indonesia, for example, could earn $1 billion a year if it manages to reduce its rate of deforestation by one million hectares annually, with revenues calculated on the basis of the price per tonne on the carbon markets at the time.
If REDD is agreed as part of a post-2012 climate regime, this could open the door to carbon storage payments for other kinds of nature-based management covering ‘ecosystems’ such as grasslands, pasturelands, peatlands and mangroves.
It could also open the door to more environmentally-friendly kinds of agriculture from agroforestry to conservation farming, as they too can store large amounts of carbon in vegetation and soils.
The missing link, however, is a way to evaluate the precise amounts of carbon each kind of system and management regime is actually locking away.
This key issue must be resolved if farmers, conservationists, communities and land owners are to be paid per tonne of pollution removed from the atmosphere.
This is where the Carbon Benefits Project (CBP) comes in: scientists will closely study projects in Western Kenya, Western China, Niger and Nigeria and develop a system for measuring, monitoring and managing carbon in a diverse range of landscapes.
The UNEP-GEF project is utilizing the skills and know-how of a range of partners including Colorado State University and WWF.
Other partners include the International Soil and Reference Information Centre, the Overseas Development Group of the University of East Anglia, and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
Also involved are the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, the Asian Development Bank, Centro de Energia Nuclear na Agricultura, the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Michigan State University, the Centre for International Forestry Research, and numerous local farming communities.
As part of the Carbon Benefits Project, researchers will work with project managers in Kenya, China, Niger and Nigeria to set up carbon and greenhouse gas prediction systems.
The project scientists will assemble ground measurements of vegetation, soil carbon and greenhouse gas emissions at a test site in Western Kenya to calibrate satellite images and test the measurement and monitoring protocol.
Case studies will be carried out in several catchments of the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Sustainable Land Management Project, starting with the Cherangani Hills and followed by the Bogoria, Taita Hills and Kinale alongside Nzoia, Yala and Nyando catchments of the Lake Victoria basin.
Four demonstration projects will also be carried out in different areas of northern and western China. The project is also operating in several catchments spanning parts of both Niger and Nigeria: Maggia-Lamido, Gada-Gulbin Maradi, Tagwai-El Fadama and Komadugu Yobe.
The measurement and monitoring protocols will be available in 18 months and the modelling and capacity building work will go on up to three years when the project ends.
Quotes from Some of the Partners in the Carbon Benefits Project:
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “Farming carbon alongside farming crops is just one of the tantalizing prospects emerging as a result of the world’s urgent need to combat climate change. Some industrialized countries are considering investing tens of billions of dollars in capturing carbon off the smoke stacks of power stations and burying underground.”
“However, managing the land and its vegetation in more intelligent and climate-friendly ways may generate multiple benefits from stabilizing soils, securing water supplies, conserving biodiversity and generating much needed income for poor and low-income communities. Governments thus need to Seal the Deal at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in December,” added Mr Steiner.
Monique Barbut, CEO of the GEF, said: “The CBP will save money and time by streamlining land cover analysis. Project managers that use the methodology will be able to engage communities in measurement efforts and help them benchmark for better results.”
Dennis Garrity, Director-General of the World Agroforestry Centre, said: “The consortium of partners, from Africa, Asia, and South America, involved in the Carbon Benefits Project is developing a cost-effective and scientifically rigorous system, making use of the latest remote sensing technology and analysis, soil carbon modeling, ground-based measurement, and statistical analysis”.
“The knowledge gained from study sites around the world, including Lake Victoria, will help enable some of the world’s poorest people – in the most vulnerable places – to obtain the benefits of carbon sequestration,” added Mr Garrity.
Ginette Hemley, WWF’s Senior Vice President for Conservation Strategy and Science, said: “This project will offer a set of tools to help farmers, forest managers, and others better protect their land, increase productivity, and do this in a way that will help fight climate change.”
Eleanor Milne, Colorado State University, said: “The Carbon Benefits Project will provide a standard way for Global Environment Facility and other sustainable land management projects to measure, monitor and project Carbon benefits. We believe the project has the potential to produce a world class protocol which could be used by all sustainable land management projects in the future to show the impacts they have in terms of reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”