(This is the eighth in a 10-part series intended to look at some of the issues surrounding Guyana’s bid for funds from the World Bank-administered Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF) and from Norway, and for the President’s Low Carbon Development Strategy.)
By Janette Bulkan
In my last article I began to examine the losses of carbon from Guyana’s forests. These losses from forests are the equivalent of emissions from factory exhaust stacks. The losses must be assessed alongside the gains in carbon and the standing stock of carbon in the trees, if Guyana is to participate in carbon trading schemes under the rubric of REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). REDD is one of the approaches being negotiated internationally towards a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol 1997. This negotiation process should conclude with a new treaty to be signed at the 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Copenhagen in December 2009.
The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) has made provision for new assessment of emissions from forests in its proposal to the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF). The version of the proposal (the R-PLAN) dated June 1, 2009, was approved along with the R-PLAN of Panama and approval pending for the more complex plan of Indonesia. I will draw attention to some inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Guyana’s R-PLAN later in this series but here I will note the GFC’s prudent comment, “for many carbon trading schemes, only above ground bole and crown biomass are normally considered . . . but the ultimate standards REDD will adopt are as yet unknown, and all carbon pools need to be allowed for” (pages 85 and 91 in the R-PLAN). The GFC scheme thus proposes to assess as major biomass pools “tree boles, crowns and roots, lianas and epiphytes, understorey shrubs and herbaceous plants, standing and fallen deadwood, litter and soil carbon” (pages 86 and 93).
This is a huge and expensive task, but if carried out correctly would put Guyana in a sound technical position for REDD trading. What the R-PLAN does not estimate is whether the cost of this assessment, which has to be repeated at intervals although not always with the same level of detail, would be commensurate with the value of the forest carbon which would be available for trading with emitting countries or enterprises. In part 5 of this series, I commented on uncertainties about forest area, in part 6 about the carbon in the standing forest, and in part 7 I noted that we have possibly an unexpected natural accumulation or net gain of 0.45 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year (tC/ha/yr). I noted also in part 7 that the GFC could reduce fire damage by making obligatory the implementation of the Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting; it is now voluntary and so not generally observed. The GFC says that fire damage “has not been officially recorded at a given percentage level” (R-PLAN page 6).
We should now look at carbon losses (emissions in REDD terms) using the GFC’s area figures quoted in the R-PLAN. The GFC gives only three sources – mining, agriculture and forest roads – but without definitions. Interpretation is further confused because the GFC very often refers to “deforestation and degradation” together, although the distinction is important. In terms of REDD and other climate change discussions, deforestation means replacement of forest by another land use with no likelihood of return to forest in the foreseeable future. Degradation means a reduction in one or more components of the forest, including biomass and carbon density change, but with the possibility of recovery.
The LCDS multistakeholder consultation steering committee agreed on June 23, 2009, that Amerindian traditional rotational agriculture, which may involve small-scale annual clearing and burning of secondary forest, is not deforestation or degradation; see http://www.lcds.gov.gy/images/stories/Documents/minutes3.pdf. So such areas would not come within the scope of a carbon trading scheme.
On page 100 of the R-PLAN, the GFC estimated degraded forest area from mapping in 2007-8 as 54,210 ha. Presumably this was from LANDSAT satellite imagery, and presumably this was an area affected just in that one-year period, although the R-PLAN was not specific. Of this area, mining occupied 24,428 ha and agriculture 21,903 ha. As the mining is a change in land use and as there is hardly any post-mining site restoration, it is deforestation, not degradation. For the purpose of argument, I assume that the forest cleared by mining carried the largest amount of above ground tree biomass estimated by Hans ter Steege for Iwokrama in 2001: 147 tC/ha on loam soils. This would mean a deforestation emission from mining in 2007-8 of 24428 ha x 147 tC/ha = 3.6 million tonnes of carbon (MtC).
Likewise, deforestation for “agriculture” would mean an emission of 21903 ha x 147 tC/ha = 3.2 MtC. Exactly what is this agriculture is not explained in the R-PLAN.
The balance of “degraded” area mapped in 2007-8 is 7879 ha, which presumably is the estimate for the 2626 km of forest roads, apparently assumed to have an average forest clearing width 30m; although the GFC Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting specifies a maximum width of 25m for main haul roads (section 4.1.43 on page 25, November 2002). Presumably the 30m was used for estimation as it relates to LANDSAT resolution, but the GFC is not specific. The deforestation emission from forest roads is thus 7879 ha x 147 tC/ha = 1.2 MtC. This would be an underestimate because for main haul forest roads there would be clearance also of the main roots of the felled trees, so adding 20 per cent for those main roots (as the GFC does) would mean a deforestation emission from forest roads in 2007-8 of 1.4 MtC.
Although the GFC refers to the three categories above as “degradation”, they are “deforestation” by the definition used by the GFC (page 83 in the R-PLAN).
Log markets, forest camps
and logging base camps
The GFC did not apparently try to estimate the deforestation in 2007-8 due to clearance of log markets, forest camps or base camps; perhaps because the resolution of the satellite imagery was not good enough. It should be noted that in the R-PLAN the GFC proposes to move to more advanced satellite imagery with higher resolution, but the GFC sensibly notes that this monitoring would be more costly.
In the next article, I will continue to assess the carbon losses from Guyana’s forests, dealing with the difficult estimation of losses due to logging.