30 January, 2008

ARTICLE: Flannery's plan: buy forests to help environment

Katharine Murphy, Canberra
January 30, 2008, The Age

Australians could buy a stake in the protection of endangered tropical forests under a groundbreaking scheme being devised by former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery.

Professor Flannery outlined his proposal yesterday in a private meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's hand-picked climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut.

Professor Flannery — Australia's most prominent environmental campaigner — wants to set up an internet-based carbon market with a pilot scheme to be run in Papua New Guinea.

In a paper prepared for Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery says 20% of global carbon emissions come from the wholesale destruction of tropical forests, so preservation must be part of any effective response to climate change.

His scheme envisages that households and businesses would be able to secure the protection of forests and the replanting of trees through an auction scheme.

Buyers would identify vulnerable forest lands online, using internet technology like Google Earth, and then make bids to secure its protection through a site like e-Bay.

If the bid is accepted by the village, the funds would be held in trust by a non-government organisation until the agreed protection of biodiversity or carbon sequestration has been delivered.

"The purpose of this paper is to outline a practical way to establish a pilot scheme in PNG, which has the potential to guide the development of a tropical forest carbon market worldwide," Professor Flannery says in his paper to the Garnaut Climate Change Review.

Industry and environmentalists are now jockeying in an effort to influence the outcome of Professor Garnaut's review, which will deliver its interim report in June. The review is examining the impact of climate change on the Australian economy and will recommend policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Before yesterday's meeting with Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery had outlined his forests proposal to federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett and PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare during a meeting late last year.

He told The Age yesterday that he believed his proposal could help deal with some of the problems associated with reforestation schemes in the developing world because it recognised that villagers, not governments, were owners of the forest land.

The scheme would recognise "Mabo-like" principles of land ownership, he said. Sir Michael had expressed interest in PNG, which has clan-based land tenure, being the location for a pilot scheme. "The key thing is you have to buy from the owner," Professor Flannery said.

Households and businesses would buy biodiversity protection in the first instance, followed by carbon sequestration.

Heavy polluters are already seeking access to schemes to help offset their carbon dioxide emissions. Forests are natural carbon dioxide "sinks", which can be used to offset greenhouse emissions.

"My view is you would buy that right for one year," he said. Regular re-auctioning would be an important means of safeguarding progress and keeping villages accountable under the scheme.

Professor Flannery says the scheme would require participation by at least 50 villages. Governments would need to put appropriate regulations in place.

Significant funding would also be required for technology upgrades for remote villages. In a document prepared for Professor Garnaut, Professor Flannery identifies the previous government's $200 million global forests initiative as a source of support.

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