420,000 acres of pristine tropical rainforest in Sumatra, the home of several near-extinct species of Orangutans, Tigers and Elephants, is set to be cleared by Asia Pulp & Paper. The company does not have permission from the government and the government does not have the funds to do anything about it.
It's tragic for many reasons -- species loss, water contamination, soil erosion, removal of indigenous settlements, loss of ecotourism opportunities, loss of anti-cancer compounds, and on and on. But of all those great losses, the one that will be on everyone's mind this December in Copenhagen is the almost incomprehensible impact that this one single act will have on the global climate.
This forest, called Bukit Tigapuluh, is one of the largest and most valuable carbon sinks on earth. It is estimated that a 100 megatons of CO2 will be released when this forest is downed, a full tenth of all of the CO2 savings put in place by the Kyoto protocol for the First Commitment Period (2008-2012).
There is not doubt in anyone's mind that a mechanism needs to be put in place immediately to incentivize avoided deforestation. REDD, the main deforestation treaty currently being considered (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation & Degradation) is intended to put a stop to such global catastrophes, but many fear that it could do more damage than good if it is not strengthened in Copenhagen this December.
According to several activist groups
, the current REDD treaty does not differentiate between established forests and timber plantations so, in essence, an illegal logger like Asia Pulp & Paper could actually end up being paid government monies from well-wishing northern countries to log the forests.
REDD, or some version of it, may decide the fate of the world's last rainforests so I'll be following closely the COP15 talks regarding avoided deforestation. We have to get his one right.