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CAMEROON: Gearing Up for Copenhagen

Ngala Killian Chimtom

YAOUNDE, Oct 2 2009 (IPS) - “Developed countries have failed to respect the Kyoto Protocol which compelled them to reduce latest 2008 emissions of greenhouse gases by five percent. There is therefore need for new engagements to be taken at the Copenhagen Summit.” Decisive words from Cameroon’s minister for the environment, Pierre Hele.

Cameroon is banking on funding to preserve forests as part of a new deal in Copenhagen. Credit:  Julie Langford/Wikicommons

Cameroon is banking on funding to preserve forests as part of a new deal in Copenhagen. Credit: Julie Langford/Wikicommons

The minister was speaking at a meeting in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé in September which brought together policy makers, environmentalists, local and international NGOs, university lecturers, scientists and representatives of communities to brainstorm and agree on the country’s stance ahead of the United Nations Summit on Climate Change, scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

The minister observed that the consequences of global warming are already known to a majority of Cameroonians given the fast-advancing desert, increasing floods, rise in sea levels, poor agricultural productivity and so on.

Participants came up with a number of proposals which have been groomed and presented in a document titled, “Cameroon’s Position on Global Dialogue concerning Climatic Changes” The document calls on developed countries to “reduce their Greenhouse gases by at least 40 percent by 2020, and by eight percent by 2050, taking 1990 as the point of reference”.

These demands far surpass the commitments taken under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which envisioned only an average of five percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by industrialised countries, between 2008-2012.

(Even this modest target will not be met, in large part because some of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other GHGs like the U.S. never ratified the protocol.)

Cameroon’s policy document further supports the putting in place of “a market mechanism where all greenhouse gas reduction efforts could be evaluated in terms of carbon credit to be sold on the carbon market”. Such an option should not be limited to the public sector alone, the document reads: it should be extended to the private sector and to individuals who carry out activities that are likely to reduce greenhouse gases, thereby mitigating the effects of climate change.

Cameroon plans to put 30 percent of its national territory under conservation. Already, protected areas in the country stand at 20 percent of total surface area, up from 11 percent in 1992.

“This improvement helps in stabilising the global climate, and for that reason, Cameroon wants these efforts compensated,” environment minster Hele told participants at the Yaoundé meeting. Cameroon also supports a more equitable geographical distribution of projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – the formal trading mechanism allowing polluters to purchase “carbon credits” for activities elsewhere that counteract harmful emissions – as well as for additional financing by the CDM of reforestation programs initiated by developing countries.

Cameroon has great renewable energy potential ranging from abundant sunshine in the northern parts of the country to massive potential for hydroelectric power generation. “We must work hard to initiate clean energy projects such as solar energy and little dam projects so as to get financing from the CDM,” reads the document.

Forest loss and economic interest

Statistics from the Cameroon ministry of forestry and wildlife indicate that Cameroon’s forest cover stood at 24.5 million hectares in 1990. By 2005, this had dropped to less than 21.3 million hectares, a precipitous 13 percent drop over 15 years. Well over three million hectares of forest lost to a growing population’s quest for farmland as well as logging and timber exports which constitute an important source of revenue for Cameroon. Much of the logging and other deforestation is illegal.

Forests store large amounts of carbon in living trees. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN estimates that each hectare of Cameroon’s forests stores an average of 63 metric tonnes of carbon that is released into the atmosphere when the trees are cut down and the land converted for agriculture or grazing.

Cameroon’s yearly deforestation rate of 220,000 hectares per year is thus releasing 13,860,000 tonnes of carbon per year. Assuming a market value of five dollars per tonne of carbon emitted, this would represent a yearly value of $6,930,000 per year.

Dr.Joseph Armathé Amougou is the focal point person for Cameroon for the Forest Carbon Protection Facility (FCPF), a World Bank-backed programme meant to help developing countries protect their forests by providing value to standing forests.

“Calculating carbon reductions is a very complex mechanism,” says Amougou.

“It is however possible for experts to assess how much carbon is stored in which type of tree or forest. A thick, dense tropical forest for instance would definitely store more carbon than a forest of stunted shrubs. It could be therefore possible to know exactly the carbon value in standing forest and by extension, how much such forests could be worth in terms of carbon credit.”

Amougou explains how the FCPF works. “Trees use carbon dioxide to build themselves. Countries and communities with forests will have to show proof of how much carbon their forests have absorbed in order to be paid. Once the carbon value of the forest has been determined by experts, the community would then be given a Certified Emissions Reduction, which represents emissions reduction or sequestration output of the forest and constitutes the basis on which payments are made.”

A recent World Bank study suggests that land worth between $200-500 per hectare at current market rates could be worth between $1,500 -$10,000 with its FCPF-valued forest cover intact. Supporters say this enhanced value should be enough to discourage logging the land for timber or to use as farmland.

Critics however see this calculation as too simplistic. The Centre pour l’environnement et le développement (CED), a Yaoundé-based conservation organisation affiliated to Friends of the Earth International, argues that it’s not enough to assess how much carbon the trees contain.

“(It) will be necessary to calculate what governments and local populations would lose, instead of just laying emphasis on the benefits made by private enterprises and individuals involved in the destruction and degradation of the forest….To evaluate forests uniquely on their carbon stocks neglects their values as conservators of bio-diversity and a means of subsistence for indigenous peoples.”

The CED rather calls for the institution of “a carbon tax that would be levied on industries emitting carbon,” with the proceeds from this tax directed to financing forest conservation programs.

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