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Forest incentives must not neglect biodiversity protection, scientists caution

Slowing deforestation is the most promising new strategy to protect the planet from disruptive climate change–but if it is not done carefully and sensibly biodiversity could be risk, an international group of scientists warned today. “While it is clear that the massive destruction of tropical rainforests poses a serious threat to the incredibly rich biodiversity...

Slowing deforestation is the most promising new strategy to protect the planet from disruptive climate change–but if it is not done carefully and sensibly biodiversity could be risk, an international group of scientists warned today.

“While it is clear that the massive destruction of tropical rainforests poses a serious threat to the incredibly rich biodiversity found on Earth, others hazards are not so explicit,” the group says in an essay published in the November 16 issue of the journal Current Biology.

The group made their statement in anticipation of an international agreement that global warming can be slowed by reducing carbon emissions caused by deforestation.

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Truck loaded with logs harvested from an Indonesian forest.

NGS stock photo by James P. Blair

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) consists of 192 countries that seek to develop intergovernmental policies that address challenges posed by climate change. The UNFCCC will meet in Copenhagen in December of 2009 to complete an agreement on incentives to reduce deforestation.

Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) proposes to compensate tropical forest countries if they reduce their rate of deforestation, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and includes strategies for conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks,” the scientists say in a news statement.

“REDD should have multiple benefits. But, unfortunately, although the final rules might safeguard carbon stocks, they may fall short of their potential to protect biodiversity,” says the author who organized the collaboration, Stuart L. Pimm from The Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Pimm is a regular blogger for NatGeo News Watch and a former member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration.

Pimm and colleagues explain in their essay how REDD policies might have a less than advantageous impact on biodiversity and suggest how careful policies might reduce carbon emissions and benefit biodiversity.

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Aerial view of clear cutting on a mountain side in Papua New Guinea.

NGS stock photo by James P. Blair

The researchers point out that if REDD emphasizes reducing deforestation rates, governments are likely to focus on areas that are cheapest to protect and that areas with high biodiversity might not be cost-competitive.

“Further, forests with the greatest density of carbon might not be the most essential locations for biodiversity conservation. There is also concern that deforestation processes will not be effectively abated by REDD, but simply displaced to other areas,” the scientists say in their statement.

“Implementing REDD might accelerate the conversion and degradation of high biodiversity areas where REDD or other conservation funding is not available.”

“Implementing REDD might accelerate the conversion and degradation of high biodiversity areas where REDD or other conservation funding is not available,” Pimm explained.

The authors make several suggestions for maximizing the positive biodiversity impacts of REDD policies.

They propose that rules to conserve, assess and perhaps even financially support biodiversity should be included in the text of the Copenhagen agreement.

“Biodiversity, itself, is essential to ecosystem adaptation. Ensuring that REDD policies not only reduce carbon emissions but conserve biodiversity will ensure that humanity and the biosphere can be as resilient as possible to climate disruptions,” Pimm said.

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David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn