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News : International Last Updated: Dec 19th, 2007 - 13:17:15

Forest countries seek carbon credits; World's most polluted places named
By Finfacts Team
Sep 14, 2007, 05:30

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Environmental group Climate Ark says that Indonesia's rainforests contain 60% of all the tropical peat in the world. Peatland rainforests are wet, swampy rainforests that when drained and cleared, their peat filled soils become highly susceptible to long burning, carbon and methane rich fires. Such rainforests on peat soils are one of the world's most important carbon sinks and play a vital role in helping to regulate the global climate. They are also very rich in biodiversity and a refuge for species like orang-utans, since most of the non-peat lowland forests have already been cleared.

Rainforest peatlands are being destroyed fast; primarily by palm oil, timber, and paper and pulp companies. The Indonesian government has endorsed a massive biofuel program which foresees an increase in oil palm plantations from currently just over 6 million hectares to eventually over 26 million hectares. 5.25 million hectares have just been allocated for biofuel production, including one million hectares to PT SMART, one of the companies which was involved in agreements for a mega-plantation in the part of Kalimantan known as the 'Heart of Borneo' which has been halted for the time being, but is likely to reemerge at some point in some guise or other.

Eight countries with the largest tropical forests have agreed to push for their protection to be made eligible for carbon credits. In related news, this week the Top Ten list of the world's most severely polluted places, were named.

Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister, said this week that Brazil, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Gabon, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Congo and Indonesia, with 80 per cent of the world’s tropical forest cover, had formed the Forestry Eight, whose objective is to have forest preservation included in the successor to the Kyoto protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012. Under Kyoto, only reforestation and afforestation are eligible for carbon credits.

The group plans to meet at the UN-convened gathering on climate change in New York on September 24th. Formal negotiations on the global framework are to begin at a UN conference in Bali in December.

Indonesia and Brazil are the world’s third and fourth largest emitters of greenhouse gases respectively because of the amount of carbon that escapes during deforestation.

The Indonesian government says that the country has lost about 1.87m hectares of forest each year since 2000. Under current carbon trading schemes, protecting the felled trees could have been worth as much as €29 billion a year.

Forests reduce greenhouse gases by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. The UK Stern review on climate change estimated that deforestation is responsible for about 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Indonesia's forest burnings give much grief to neighbouring countries when the vast fires blanket South-East Asia in smog.

The country's Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar has told Australia's ABC radio's PM program that Australia's A$200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate "will not solve too many problems".

Wetlands International places Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions behind only the United States and China because of the vast tracts of deforested land in Kalimantan, where carbon-rich peat decays and catches fire every year.

According to ABC, last March, Indonesia warmly welcomed Australia's A$200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate, which is aimed fighting climate change by preserving the world's forests.

In July, $10 million of that money was committed to developing forest protection projects in Indonesia.

But now Minister Witoelar, is questioning what in reality the scheme can achieve.

"Maybe if it is upscaled even more because it does not solve too many problems because $200 million divided into so many areas over five years does not give a lot of forest aid," he said.

Getting paid for keeping the forests alive will not be easy to win agreement and currently, much deforestation is caused by illegal logging activities, which governments have condoned or been impotent to prevent.

Bloomberg News calculated in a recent article, that by curbing the drainage of the huge peatswamps in Kalimantan and using their stored carbon to offset emissions elsewhere (carbon trading), could be worth as much as €29 billion ($39 billion) per year. This was based on the UN’s current estimate that traded carbon is worth €14.59 per tonne, and on research by WL/Delft Hydraulics and Wetlands International (PEAT-CO2) that shows that 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are being lost from tropical peatswamps each year. 

On Wednesday, the Global Canopy Programme is an alliance of 29 scientific institutions in 19 countries, launched of the Forests NOW Declaration in London, which calls on world governments to take urgent action on deforestation in the tropics and sub-tropics, which causes 18-25% of global carbon emissions, more than the world’s entire transport sector.

The Declaration calls for a series of carbon policies and market reforms to incentivise the protection of tropical forests and safeguard the vital services they provide including capture and storage of carbon dioxide.

Forests have been absorbing and storing carbon for millennia and contain 60% of the carbon stored on Earth. Deforestation releases this carbon into the atmosphere contributing significantly to global warming. Action to stop deforestation and to provide sustainable sources of forest products and stimulate forest restoration and the planting of new forests will help substantially in the fight against climate change.

Global Canopy says deforestation, driven by economic forces, also threatens critical natural habitats across the world particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Tropical forests cover less than 7 percent of the Earth’s total surface area but are home to 50 percent of the world’s species and are critical to the survival of over a billion of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. New market-driven incentives are required now if we are to avoid irrevocable damage to our environment and to ourselves.

World's Most Polluted Places

US-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group, in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland, this week issued their Top Ten list of the world's most severely polluted places. Overall, the Top Ten sites lie in seven countries and affect a total of more than 12 million people.

The Top Ten list appears in Blacksmith Institute's World's Worst Polluted Places 2007, a report on the places where pollution most severely impacts human health, especially the health of children. The 2007 list contains four new sites - two in India, one in China and one in the republic of Azerbaijan - and six that carry over from the list which debuted in 2006.

"The fact of the matter is that children are sick and dying in these polluted places, and it's not rocket science to fix them," says Richard Fuller, founder and director of Blacksmith Institute.
"This year, there has been more focus on pollution in the media, but there has been little action in terms of new funding or programs. We all need to step up to the plate and get moving." 
Sumgayit was a major Soviet industrial centre housing more than 40 factories manufacturing industrial and agricultural chemicals. These included synthetic rubber, chlorine, aluminium, detergents, and pesticides. While the factories remained fully operational, 70-120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released into the air annually. With the emphasis placed on maximum, low-cost production at the expense of environmental and occupational health and safety, industry has left the city heavily contaminated. Factory workers and residents of the city have been exposed to a combination of high-level occupational and environmental pollution problems for several decades.
Killer Communities 2007
Blacksmith Institute's Worst Polluted Places list for 2007 lists the Top Ten alphabetically by country because within the list the sites are unranked. The report states, "ranking is not realistic or feasible...given the wide range of location sizes, populations and pollution dynamics." Sites new to the list are marked with an asterisk:
  • Sumgayit, Azerbaijan*;
  • Linfen, China;
  • Tianying, China*;
  • Sukinda, India*;
  • Vapi, India*;
  • La Oroya, Peru;
  • Dzerzhinsk, Russia;
  • Norilsk, Russia;
  • Chernobyl, Ukraine; and
  • Kabwe, Zambia.
"Worst" List Evolves
The Top Ten list is based on scoring criteria devised by an international group of experts including researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Hunter College, Harvard University, IIT Delhi, University of Idaho, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and leaders of major international environmental remediation companies who comprise Blacksmith Institute's Technical Advisory Board (TAB). Specialists from Green Cross Switzerland also participated in this year's assessment.

The methodology for 2007 Top Ten list was refined "to place more weight on the scale and toxicity of the pollution and on the numbers of people at risk," according to the report. The inclusion of Sumgayit and Vapi results from changes in the scoring methodology. Tianying and Sukinda were newly identified in this year's list development process.

"We received over 40 new site nominations from people around the world as a result of publishing the 2006 list. Our database now includes over 400 polluted sites," observes Hanrahan, Blacksmith's Director of Global Operations. "We will continue to refine the evaluation process and update the report yearly. Getting the problem of extreme pollution in the developing world on the 'radar' is a first step to taking action."

The Dirty Thirty
Another new feature of the 2007 report is the "Dirty 30," a more comprehensive group of polluted locations around the globe that includes the Top Ten. The four sites from the 2006 Top Ten that do not appear in the 2007 list - Haina, Dominican Republic; Ranipet, India; Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan; and Rudnaya Pristan, Russia - all remain in the larger list.

The majority of the Dirty 30 sites lie in Asia, with China, India, and Russia having the greatest number. The only geographic regions not represented in the Dirty 30 are the Middle East and Oceania. Toxic pollution in these sites has resulted from sources as diverse as massive industrial estates, large-scale mining and smelting operations and even Cold War era chemical weapons production.

"All the sites in the Dirty 30 are very toxic and dangerous to human health," says Hanrahan.

New Additions to the Top Ten
Mining, Cold War era legacy pollution and unregulated industrial production are the major culprits behind the pollution identified by the Blacksmith Institute report. Among the new sites to appear on the 2007 Top Ten list, Tianying, China, a massive lead production base, is responsible for half of the country's total output. Lead poisoning severely stagnates children's intellectual development.

Vapi, India exemplifies a region overwhelmed by industrial estates - more than fifty poison the local soils and groundwater with pesticides, PCBs, chromium, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Blacksmith Institute's report states, "Mercury in Vapi's groundwater 96 times higher than WHO health standards". Sukinda, India houses more than 97% of India's chromite ore deposits. Twelve mines operate without environmental controls, leaching hexavalent chromium into drinking water supplies.

Sumgayit, Azerbaijan is a former Soviet industrial base polluting the area with industrial chemicals and heavy metals. According to the report, cancer rates in Sumgayit are 22 to 51 percent higher than the national average; genetic mutations and birth defects are commonplace.

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