VIENNA - "The Kyoto protocol does not give incentives to rainforest nations to protect their forests," Kevin Conrad, special envoy of the environment and climate change permanent mission of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations told IPS.
The Kyoto protocol is the international agreement that establishes how industrialised countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by an average of five percent relative to 1990 levels. The treaty does not assign targets to developing nations.
One of the instruments of the Kyoto protocol is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), an arrangement that allows industrialised countries with a GHG reduction commitment to invest in projects in developing countries that reduce emissions. This then counts towards their domestic 'clean' record. Conservation of rainforests is not included in such projects.
Between 1989 and 1995, global emissions as a result of deforestation amounted to 5,000 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, studies show.
"Instead of giving us incentives to protect our forests, the world gives countries like mine incentives to destroy them," Conrad said. Coffee, soy beans, sugar, flowers and wood furniture, he said, can only be produced in developing countries through systematic deforestation.
"Tropical rainforest nations deserve to be treated equally," Conrad said. "If we reduce deforestation, we must receive fair compensation for reductions. A tonne (of carbon dioxide) is a tonne is a tonne."
Conrad is also executive director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations (CRN), a worldwide coalition of developing countries with significant rainforests cover. The coalition has a secretariat at Columbia University in New York, and facilitates development of proactive strategies towards environmentally sustainable economic growth.
Among the causes of deforestation in developing countries, other than the production of export goods, appear to be the need for cheap energy, and infrastructure projects, such as roads, mining and power lines.
Deforestation is particularly dramatic in Brazil and Indonesia, where some five million hectares of forest are lost every year due to such causes, and more recently, the plantation of palm trees to produce bio-fuels.
Other tropical countries such as Sudan, Burma and Zambia lose more than 400,000 hectares per year of forest. Africa is losing the most forest, with some five million hectares lost every year between 1990 and 2000, according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA).
The RFA, produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in cooperation with governments and specialists in the field, is a comprehensive assessment of forests.
Conrad told IPS that loss of rainforest has a large environmental impact, from degradation of the quality of water in lakes and rivers to decimation of biological diversity, damage to ecosystems, and prevention of natural processes such as pollination.
According to CRN, deforestation threatens to annihilate some 60 percent of all species.
Conversely, protecting rainforests represents major benefits for the environment, since it is a significant source of carbon emission reductions outside the framework of the Kyoto protocol. In addition, it can create substantial new revenue streams to addresses poverty in rural areas.
Conrad has called for a new approach to conserving rainforests, to be considered in negotiations towards a new international framework on climate change from 2012, when the operative period of the Kyoto protocol ends. The proposal is likely to come up at the conference the United Nations is organising in Bali in Indonesia in December.
According to the CRN, a new approach should begin in 2008. Conrad said new initiatives must consider both aforestation and reforestation. Aforestastion is the artificial establishment of forests in non-forest land, while reforestation is re-establishment of forest in an area previously under forest cover.
© 2007 IPS - Inter Press Service