The Earth’s ecosystems are under attack by many virulent anthropological threats including global climate change that will make the Kyoto 2 Conference in Copenhagen in December of 2009 a critical juncture for global mitigation and adaptation programs. Can the Kyoto Protocol save Mother Earth’s Immune System?

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Adapted from:

The careful implementation, monitoring, and expansion of existing Kyoto Protocol carbon sink program have the potential to effectively reduce overall green house gas emissions and bolster ecological resilience.

Under the current agreements of the Kyoto Protocol Annex I countries (developed countries) have to reduce their green house gas emissions to below their 1990 levels. In order to reach these goals there has been a large focus, by many countries, on green technological solutions and economic solutions like using international carbon markets or administering carbon taxes as was described in the 2008 CRS Report for Congress. These strategies are important for mitigating climate change. However, there is no use in investing in a drug if the patient keeps getting sick. Similarly the world needs to not only invest its time, energy, and money into emission reducing procedures, but also focus on preserving the resilience of the world’s ecosystems. This way mother earth is not like an AIDS patient that is vulnerable to any environmental sickness or disaster without having a healthy immune response. There needs to be a higher priority for investing in carbon sinks to protect natures resilience and carbon sequestration abilities. The Kyoto Protocol suggests that changes in land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) is one method where countries can receive additional emission allowances, because the protection of these areas act as a natural green house gas sink.

Developing nations are not bound to protect their natural lands by any international mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol.  The Kyoto 2 Conference is an opportunity to expand upon the existing avenues in the Kyoto Protocol outlined in Uniting on Climate : A Guide to the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Annex I countries can invest in carbon sinks through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or Joint Implementation (JI) programs to reduce green house gas emissions from within other developing or developed nations. There is an independent committee that reviews these programs under the current framework. For this to be an effective evaluation process, this body needs to consist of a diverse and interdisciplinary group of experts (especially climate scientists and ecologists) to assure that these programs are critically reviewed for their contribution to reductions in green house gases in a manner that is ecologically and socially responsible.

Unfortunately, there needs to be more stringent requirements for carbon sinks to be properly effective and ecologically healthy.  A higher priority should be given for the protection of existing ecosystems rather than for afforestion programs, which creates forest that wasn’t there before. This is because afforestation programs are often unhealthy and lack biodiversity.

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Adapted from:

Preserving ecosystems maintains ecological services and resilience, which translate into recognizable social and economic benefits in helping mitigation and adaptation goals to address global climate change. To name a few: some ecosystems act as flood barriers in coastal zones, while others provide habitat for local wildlife, which sustains local people and supports the tourist industry as is described in the 2000 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Afforestation and reforestation programs on the other hand are an industrial solution that can end up causing many side effects such as the displacement and deprivation of indigenous peoples as well as local flora and fauna. The end result can be devastating just like chemotherapy is for a cancer patient. The  establishment of new forest tends to centralize the land control to foreign interests, which tend to exploit the ecosystem at the expense of the local and ecological communities. In order for the land use to be sustainable and continue to provide green house gas emissions it must make provisions that will involve indigenous people. In Indonesia for example, there are huge tracts of forest that are being deforested and developed into large scale palm oil factories against the wishes of the people as was documented in the Global Value Chain: Palm Oil Video video.

Developed countries can make a difference by buying rights to land containing tracts of forest and various other ecological zones in order to preserve these ecosystems that would otherwise be destroyed.

Funding ecosystem preservation (like protecting rain forest) coupled with investment in ecotourism management of natural areas seems to me to be a possible way that could be attractive to Annex I investments. These operations would need to be carefully monitored by both the host country and the investing country. If done correctly this has the possibility of providing local jobs for park protection and management, while providing an opportunity for developed nations to be invested in ecotourism destinations for its population.

Finally, there is a need for the environmental and ecological assessments of carbon sink programs to determine what would be best for preserving the existing biological community to compliment regional and global conservation strategies. Ultimately, there is a need for a holistic approach that prioritizes preservation, but also includes complimentary economic mechanisms. A good example of a country that has adopted a viable approach is Costa Rica, which Thomas L. Friedman describes in the New York Times opinion article (No) Drill, Baby, Drill. This exact model not be possible for all countries given the differences in natural endowments and economic capabilities, but it’s success reflects the importance of nurturing resilience and not just relying on industrial cures.

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