Washington, April 23 : Purdue University researchers have proposed a new option for incorporating deforestation into the international climate change treaty.
The approach, titled "Preservation Pathway," would provide carbon credits for developing countries that both set aside a portion of existing forests and slow the rate at which the remaining forests are cut down.
According to Kevin Gurney, lead author of the proposal, a key point in the approach is its call for a deceleration of deforestation.
"Deceleration - continuously reducing the rate of deforestation - is the only way to ultimately reach zero," said Gurney. "A fixed reduction or decline in deforestation will only delay complete forest destruction," he added.
Tropical deforestation currently accounts for roughly one-fifth of the global emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important human-derived greenhouse gas.
"The Preservation Pathway allows countries to select how much of the existing forest it will save. The greater the amount of forest preserved, the more credits the country earns," said Gurney. "A country must also show a deceleration in deforestation of forest not set aside," he added.
"This approach brings together the two main goals being discussed in international climate change policy: preserving existing forest and reducing deforestation," said Gurney. "It also provides an incentive for developing countries to join in the Kyoto Treaty because they can sell the carbon credits they earn," he added.
According to Gurney, many developed countries will need to purchase credits to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions currently being discussed.
"Forests are a major resource for developing countries. We must compensate them fairly for the value of this resource," he said.
Unlike fossil fuel emissions' effect on climate, deforestation is poorly understood.
"The issue of deforestation is very complicated. We are not only concerned with the carbon emitted into the atmosphere when trees are cut down, but also with preserving forests because they provide food, medicine and a natural habitat," said Gurney.
Gurney said the approach has technical advantages over current proposed deforestation policies that would create a baseline and compare deforestation rates relative to it.
The Preservation Pathway approach would use satellite imagery to measure success. Satellites could be used to monitor the forests' canopy cover, which allows for measurement of relative change from one year to the next.
Next, the research team will evaluate details of the proposed policy.
The team will use specific countries as examples and will evaluate various aspects of the approach, including to what degree a satellite can evaluate deforestation rates and what amount of money would be sufficient compensation for the earned credits.