July 29, 2008
Study: Reducing Deforestation Is Cost-Effective Climate Change Strategy
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. --Tropical deforestation could be reduced by 50 percent for an annual cost between $17 and $30 billion, which would lower carbon dioxide emissions by about two billion metric tons per year, an amount equal to one-third of net U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study.
The researchers found significant emissions reductions available for less than $10 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, suggesting that avoiding deforestation is a relatively low-cost option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was conducted by researchers at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, Ohio State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Center for International Forestry Research and RTI International.
"Tropical deforestation has long been recognized as a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions," said Robert Beach, Ph.D., senior economist in the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Program at RTI and a co-author of the study. "But nobody knew how the costs of reducing emissions through avoided deforestation compared with alternative mitigation options. Our study found that reducing tropical deforestation is a very cost-effective option for greenhouse gas mitigation."
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tropical deforestation is considered the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions behind energy production and consumption. It also leads to reductions in biodiversity, poor water regulation, and destruction of livelihoods of many of the world’s poorest people.
The team of researchers used three economic models of global land-use and management to analyze the potential contribution of avoiding deforestation activities to mitigate carbon emissions.
The study showed that reducing the annual level of deforestation by 10 percent over the next 25 years would cost between $0.4 billion and $1.7 billion annually and save about 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions yearly. Reducing deforestation by 50 percent would cost between $17 and $30 billion per year and save more than two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Most of the cost would be in payments to landowners who would receive annual rental payments to leave their forests untouched.
"Policymakers need to develop clear incentives for countries to develop baselines and national targets so that systems can be developed that will encourage funding for these programs," Beach said.
The researchers suggest a carbon market based on internationally accepted emissions constraints would be the best source for funding such an enterprise, but that another option would be for members of international climate treaties to fund projects directly.
The authors note that the estimates do not account for the potentially considerable costs of enforcing deals, monitoring forests and paying middlemen. However, the researchers also indicate that there are potentially large biodiversity and water quality benefits that are not accounted for in their estimates.