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Approaches link carbon and biodiversity conservation

11 May 2012

A rare orchid, Telipogon ampliflorus, in Costa Rica. Will REDD+ also effectively protect tropical biodiversity?

Mr Phelps (left) and Assoc Prof Webb propose five major approaches for conceptualising the links between biodiversity and carbon conservation

Carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are among the leading causes of global climate change. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is a key United Nations initiative to help mitigate climate change by investing billions of dollars annually to better protect and manage these forest carbon stocks.

As forest depletion also results in biodiversity loss, it is little surprise that policy makers are seeking to create links between carbon and biodiversity conservation.

In a recent online paper in Nature Climate Change, NUS Environmental Biology Group members - PhD student Jacob Phelps and Assoc Prof Edward Webb - and their collaborator Prof Bill Adams at the University of Cambridge, presented policy makers with the five major approaches for conceptualising the links between biodiversity and carbon conservation. Their framework will help policymakers and stakeholders clarify their positions during protracted REDD+ negotiations.

The researchers explain that "increased clarity is essential because REDD+ policies are shaping contemporary forest management, and we need to anticipate the ways in which carbon policies are going to affect biodiversity".

"It is difficult to have a productive debate when the policy options have yet to be clearly articulated," said Mr Phelps.

Despite common ground in tropical forests, biodiversity priority areas do not always overlap with carbon hotspots of greatest interest to climate change mitigation efforts. As a result, critical biodiversity conservation areas such the Philippines and Madagascar could be overlooked by future REDD+ efforts if they only prioritise carbon.

The paper highlights five distinct approaches to linking carbon and biodiversity conservation policies. These vary in their planning requirements, ecological indicators, scope, and particularly in their financial requirements, and how they propose to pay for biodiversity conservation.

While one approach involves introducing a "biodiversity tax" on all carbon transactions, another would allow future carbon markets to determine whether they will pay for the additional costs of biodiversity. Yet a different approach would treat biodiversity and carbon as separate commodities. The authors argue that discussing these differences during the current planning phases of REDD+ is critical because these policies could fundamentally shape future conservation of tropical biodiversity.