|Climate, Biodiversity, and Forests - Issues and Opportunities Emerging from the Kyoto Protocol (WRI, 1998, 40 pages)|
The FCCC explicitly recognizes the links between climate change and biodiversity conservation in both its objective and its commitments. The objective states the importance of preventing dangerous changes to the climate system within a time frame that would not allow ecosystems to adapt naturally. Box 3 describes some of the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity and human society. The FCCC also commits nations to promoting sustainable management and conservation of forests and other terrestrial ecosystems. If ratified by the Parties, the Kyoto Protocol could offer incentives for the restoration, protection, and conservation of forests and other ecosystems within developed and developing countries, thus presenting clear synergies between climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation. Emissions from the conversion and degradation of forest and grassland ecosystems is not only a contributor to climate change but is also a significant driving force behind species extinctions and the loss of critical ecosystem functions and services such as regenerating watersheds, purifying water, slowing soil erosion, and providing food, fiber, and medicines.13
Temperate forests, most of which have already been converted and degraded, still offer important opportunities to protect biodiversity and slow climate change. For example, in the United States, where overall only 1-2 percent of native forest remains, the Pacific Northwest retains 13 percent of its old-growth forest, which provides critical breeding and feeding habitat to a range of species, such as the spotted owl and northern goshawk14 Old-growth Douglas fir forests in the Pacific Northwest are also one of the most efficient storehouses of carbon. Even after that length of time, natural forests store greater amounts of carbon than tree plantations and provide greater biodiversity benefits.
Boreal forests remain largely intact, with Russia containing nearly one fifth of the world's forest and Canada housing the second largest forest expanse, making these two nations critical carbon storehouses. The Russian Federation contains about 20 percent of the world's carbon stored in forest vegetation, meaning that further deforestation or degradation of Russian forests could potentially be a significant source of emissions.15 An estimated 19 percent of Russian forests are currently under threat from logging and mining.16 These same forests also harbor endangered animal species such as the Amur tiger and are the traditional homeland of indigenous peoples.
Carbon sequestration potential, endangered forest regions, and biodiversity "hot spots" often overlap, particularly in developing countries. This offers opportunities for synergies among the various concerns, as illustrated by Table 2, which lists the top ten countries in order of plant biodiversity in their frontier forests.17 These countries exhibit an important link to a similar ranking of developing country carbon sequestration potential, shown in the far right column of the table.18
Because Annex I countries must limit their greenhouse gas emissions, the Protocol could create a disincentive for forest conversion and degradation. The three market mechanisms could potentially provide funds for carbon offset projects that provide alternatives to conversion or intensive use of forests, as Annex I countries seek to meet their emission limits. Box 2 describes forest and land-use projects funded and designed to reduce or sequester carbon. These carbon offset projects provide examples of actual Activities Implemented Jointly (AIJ) pilot projects and as such offer possible examples of the kinds of activities that might be allowed under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
If the Protocol creates incentives to conserve and better manage forests in both developed and developing countries, tremendous climate and biodiversity benefits could be realized. However, a great deal of work remains to ensure that including forests and land-use change more fully within the Protocol results in credible greenhouse gas reductions.