Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

September 14, 2010

For the first time, there is an approved methodology for measuring the greenhouse gas emissions avoided through the conservation of peat swamp forests.

The new methodology is primarily focused on preventing land-use changes in the undrained tropical peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia. These highly threatened landscapes store enormous quantities of carbon and are the world's largest single source of emissions caused by deforestation. Global forest loss contributes between 12 and 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions each year -- more than the amount generated by all of the world's trains, planes and automobiles combined.

As it is formally titled, the Methodology for Conservation Projects that Avoid Planned Land-Use Conversion in Peat Swamp Forests represents the first time that the Voluntary Carbon Standard Association -- a leading carbon-standards organization -- has approved a methodology for projects that aim to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD). "It's a sea change from where we were last week," says David Antonioli, the association's CEO. "It will help channel financing to real projects that have real impacts on the ground."

Peat Swamp Forest -- photo by Bruce Sue

REDD projects create incentives for forest conservation by assigning a financial value to the carbon stored in forestlands, but they can only succeed if there are robust and credible methods in place for monitoring carbon storage and measuring the level of greenhouse gas emissions that are prevented by a project's implementation. REDD initiatives have the potential to help preserve large areas of tropical forests, conserve critically endangered species and mitigate hundreds of thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The methodology was first developed by the nonprofit international development organization Winrock International in collaboration with Shell Canada for the Mawas Peatlands Conservation Project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Together with Shell Canada and Winrock International, InfiniteEARTH Limited carried the methodology through its final validation. The process of approving the methodology was a long and arduous one, taking well over a year to complete. Under the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS) procedures, two independent entities must separately assess and approve any methodology before it can be formally accepted; the Rainforest Alliance and Bureau Veritas Certification each conducted their own rigorous assessments.

"This innovative methodology," says Winrock International's Dr. Nancy Harris, "which is built on more than a decade of our experience and expertise in forest carbon, was developed to be both scientifically rigorous and practical to implement. Hopefully, it will provide an example for the development of other methodologies and projects in the REDD sector."

A leader in the methodology assessment field, the Rainforest Alliance is currently engaged in assessments of six other methodologies that are being developed to monitor emissions from land-based carbon projects. "Independent, third-party assessments improve methodologies and, by bringing additional rigor and credibility, are an essential part of the approval process," says Jeff Hayward, manager of the Rainforest Alliance's climate initiative. "This new methodology is a valuable tool for advancing tropical forest conservation worldwide, and the Rainforest Alliance is proud to have helped make it a reality."

Now that it has been approved, the methodology is public domain and can be used to help bring more REDD projects to market around the globe. "Though this is only the first step in the long journey to saving the world's diminishing rainforests," says Todd Lemons, CEO of InfiniteEARTH, "the successful double validation of this methodology gives the world a tool that allows us to shift into action -- before it's too late."

The methodology will likely make its real-world debut as it is used in the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Project, a REDD project currently being developed in Borneo, Indonesia by InfiniteEARTH. The project, which forms a protective buffer to the Tanjung Puting National Park, aims to preserve nearly 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) of prime tropical forestland (home to a relic wild population of the endangered Bornean orangutan), and save it from deforestation and conversion to agricultural uses, such as the cultivation of palm oil.