Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Problems with avoided deforestation payments...

I just read a report by some WWF scientists arguing that Reduced Emissions for Avoided Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) could be a good way to get money for protecting forests and in particular tigers. They argue that countries should get a premium on any REDD payments (normally given for carbon) if the density of various key species, such as tigers, increases.. The paper has left me feeling deeply uneasy.

While I agree that there may be a place for direct payments to protect and value forests, I see numerous problems with REDD and its various derivations. First of all if the payments are made in exchange for offsets, then it is simply another way to allow big polluters in the rich countries to keep polluting, for no concrete reductions in another country (offsets with developing countries cannot work as there is no cap on the emissions of developing countries). Secondly there would need to be a very good set of baseline data from which to measure deforestation, otherwise there will be an incentive to increase or fudge defprestation data to ensure an artificially high baseline rate of forest loss. Also, there will be pressure to inflate the numbers of tigers, something that has been a big problem before. And who will recieve the money? It is supposed to help the poorest communities around forests, but the amount of projected money is vast.. how will this be handled?

All of these issues are exaccerbated by basic a structural concern. Basically, there is no incentive on any of the bodies involved in these sorts of REDD schemes to blow the whistle if there are problems. The people paying for the credits want a supply of offsets. The people receiving the money don't what that threatened. The NGOs backing it will want to make it look as though everything is okay (there are similar problems with forest certifications and 'sustainable' palm oil). Even the conservation teams on the ground would find themselves under huge pressure to keep claiming that forests and tigers are in good condition.

In the end there is huge pressure to make this work, from developing countries, some environmentalists who seem to see it as a way to protect forests, western governments who see it as a way of wriggling out of tough decisions on reduction emmissions and conservationists desperately seeking anything that can help their prize species. I only hope that it will not become a very expensive failure.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Ascension Island wildlife

Ascension Island is a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic... about half way to the Falklands, just below the equator. There is no indigenous population, and the people who live there come from the UK, St. Helena (nearest other island, 900 miles away), the US and all over the world. Basically it's only function is as an airbase and listening post. About a third of the island is trashed with military and spy gear, but the rest remains starkly beautiful - ranging from from lava desert and sweeping cliffs round the coast, thorny scrub or sparse grasses at the bottom, right up to rainforest on top of the mountain. Earlier this year I spent a few weeks there working with the Department of Conservation, and I loved it. I have decided to stick a few of the images up...

The wildlife is centred around seabirds, marine species and various plants and land crabs.. and once you get into it is truly fascinating.

Botswainbird island, white with seabirds

Masked boobies are now nesting on Ascension Island proper for the first time in hundreds of years after eradication of feral cats..

Brown booby....

Green turtle - Ascension Island is the biggest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic. They are huge, and can weight over 200 kilos..

Turtle tracks on a beautiful beach

Related to the piranha, these blackfish swarm in huge numbers around Ascension (the only place they do so) and play a major role in the local ecology

Beautiful white fairy tern... like all the wildlife on Ascension they are surprisingly fearless of humans and will come very close to check you out...

Agave plants up on Sisters Peak mountain. One of the dry peaks. The rain falls almost daily on green mountain, but is very localised. Just a mile or two away, Sister's Peak is bone dry.

Endemic marrattea ferns on Green Mountain
Land crabs in yellow, orange, pink and purple can be found all over the island, but particlarly in the human forests on Green Mountain and round the back of the island
Made up of largely introduced plants, a beautiful rainforest now tops green mountain and clings to its sides.... Anyway, that will do for now... I will put up more pictures another time!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

California retains climate law despite efforts from Big Oil

Proposition 23, the controversial bill to suspend California's climate change law, has been defeated in a State-wide referendum. The proposal shot to prominance largely thanks to the huge amount of money raised by both sides. While those supporting the measure originally made all the headlines by securing nearly $10 million from fossil fuels companies based in Texas or Kansas, it was those opposing who came through strongest at the end, amassing a war chest of up to $25 million, made up of donations from Silicon Valley software companies, venture capitalists and clean-tech ventures.... Could one day be seen as the turning point, when the fossil fuel lobby finally met its match...?

In the meantime, this looks like good news for California and the development of clean technology. With any luck it will also help to stiffen the spines of those US politicians who support proactive measures to tackle climate change.