Ecocentric

A New Deal for Carbon Raises Hopes for Threatened Forests in Madagascar

The Wildlife Conservation Society and Madagascar come together to help protect one of the most important forests in the world—and slow climate change at the same time.

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Courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

The Makira Forest in eastern Madagascar supports 1% of the world's biodiversity

An island that broke up from the Indian subcontinent tens of millions of years ago, Madagascar may be the most unique place on the planet, home to rainforests and deserts and beaches, as well as countless species found only within its borders. It’s also one of the most endangered places on the planet. Deforestation has ravaged much of Madagascar, as trees have been cut down to support slash-and-burn agriculture. Less than 10% of the original forest cover remains, in part because there’s always been more market value in chopping down trees than in keeping them standing.

Now the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is trying to change that. Today the WCS and the government of Madagascar announced the first-ever government-backed sale of forestry carbon credits in Africa, based around the endangered Makira Forest in the eastern half of the country. Called the Makira REDD+ Project (which means Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation “plus” conservation), WCS and Madagascar will be making 705,588 carbon credits available on the market, which will prevent the release of the 32.5 million tons of carbon that would be emitted if Makira wasn’t protected. It’s a unique double benefit for a carbon project—greenhouse gas emissions are averted by keeping a threatened forest standing, and the amazing biodiversity that depends on the forest to survive will be supported for years into the future. “This represents a tremendous amount of emissions,” says Todd Stevens, the executive director of global initiatives at WCS. “This will give someone a chance to do something about climate change and protect the forests.”

I actually had the chance to visit the Makira Natural Park on a 2008 trip to Madagascar. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, the park alone contains 1% of the world’s biodiversity, with 20 different species of lemurs—small, fatally cute primates found only in Madagascar. The Makira REDD+ Project will finance conservation for the park, which is in one of the poorest parts of one of the poorest countries in the world. 50% of the net revenues of the carbon sales will go to local people, providing health and education, as well as training and support for sustainable agriculture, instead of the slash and burn that’s still too common throughout parts of the developing world. “The money raised by the sale is going to stay in the country, and it’s going to go to the people who are most dependent on the forest,” says Stevens.

If REDD+ sounds familiar, that’s because it was a big topic in climate change circles a few years ago. The hope was that such avoided deforestation programs—where companies or countries took payments in lieu of cutting down forests—would both slow carbon emissions and protect biodiversity. (When tropicals forests are burnt or cut down, they release CO2 into the atmosphere, speeding warming.) It didn’t quite work out that way—a global carbon market never came together, and even those climate programs that do exist tend not to recognize forestry credits, in part because it’s proven difficult to track them. But Makira REDD+ could represent an important change as the world once again prepares for a U.N. climate meeting at the end of the year. “We’re actually rewarding people for doing the right things,” says Stevens. “There’s a lot of hope for REDD+—now we need the money to support it.” Madagascar—and Makira—is a good place to start.

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