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E-News Issue 6 August 2008

From hoes to bulldozers: has there been a fundamental shift in the drivers of land-use change in the tropics?

A new paper by Rhett Butler and William Laurance claims that the major drivers of tropical deforestation have changed in recent decades. The authors report that that deforestation has shifted from poverty-driven subsistence farming to major corporations razing forests for large-scale projects in mining, logging, oil and gas development, and agriculture. The authors argue that this may allow for more effective action against deforestation. Based on this proposition, they state that it will be easier to target a small number of large corporations to change their behaviour, by appealing to their sense of corporate responsibility.

But has such a fundamental shift really occurred across the tropics? As early as the late 1990s, research by the ASB consortium had clarified that smallholder farmers were only one of the major pressures on the land and forest resources in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Although recent hikes in commodity prices may be aggravating land-use pressures from the corporates, smallholders also respond to commodity price increases. Bulldozers have been around much longer than Butler and Laurance give credit to (for example ranching in the Amazon for the last 20 years) and a shift in commodity prices does not necessarily indicate that deforestation is driven by corporate behaviour.

Brent Swallow
ASB Global Coordinator, Nairobi

Further reading:
Butler, Rhett A and Laurance, William F. 2008. New strategies for conserving tropical forests. Trends in Ecology & Evolution Volume 23, Issue 9, September 2008, Pages 469-472.

Tomich TP, van Noordwijk M, Thomas DE. 2004. Environmental Services  and Land Use Change : Bridging the Gap between Policy and Research in Southeast Asia. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment. Volume 104, No. 1, September 2004.

Corporations become prime driver of deforestation, providing clear target for environmentalists. 5 August 2008.

From the ASB Blog

Report from Accra : REDD and differentiated responsibility

The UNFCCC held its latest round of climate change negotiations in Accra, Ghana from 22-27 August, and debates were centred on avoiding emissions from deforestation. Delegates agreed that emissions from deforestation should be considered under a new agreement and that countries should be rewarded for slowing deforestation and conserving standing forests. As well, delegates began to see eye-to-eye on limiting carbon emissions by specific industries or sectors, which would not harm developing country economies, and satisfy their calls for differentiated responsibility.

ASB Program Associate Peter Akong Minang, who attended the talks, spread ASB’s simple message: any REDD mechanism must consider the trade-offs and opportunity costs of alternative land uses in the context of broader landscape in forested countries in the tropics wherein people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Read the rest of his reflections at

Further reading:

UN climate talks make headway on emission limits. Associated Press. 27 August 2008.

ASB sits down with Wangari Maathai

On August 13, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai visited the World Agroforestry Centre to discuss possibility for collaboration on a number of carbon-poverty initiatives.

Continue reading:


How to Include Terrestrial Carbon in Developing Nations in the Overall Climate Change Solution

The Terrestrial Carbon Group has come together to develop policy recommendations to unlock the potential of terrestrial carbon. It is an international group of specialists from science, economics, and public policy with expertise in land management, climate change, and markets. The group proposes a system that places a nation’s total terrestrial carbon into two categories: terrestrial carbon that is effectively protected from being emitted (by law or by being inaccessible because of biophysical or economic constraints), and all other terrestrial carbon. Protected terrestrial carbon must be retained. All other terrestrial carbon can be emitted over a fixed period. This addresses additionality and intra-national leakage completely, while international leakage is effectively limited (especially as more nations join the system).The system provides short-term and long-term incentives to change that outcome, recognising that land management decisions are made within nations.

Source: How to Include Terrestrial Carbon in Developing Nations in the Overall Climate Change Solution. The Terrestrial Carbon Group. July 2008.

REDD carbon markets: Proposals compared
CarbonPositive has reviewed two recent proposals for possible approaches to a global REDD financing mechanism. The German Development Institute (DIE) argue that cheap REDD credits could divest industrialized countries from the responsibility of investing in costly domestic reductions. DIE also recommends that forest carbon should not be included until rich nations meet current emissions reductions targets, which they argue should be "quarantined" for fossil fuel emissions. The US-Based Environmental Defense fund disagrees, arguing that only a relatively small number of credits would be created at any one time and would not undermine the market.

Source: REDD Carbon Markets: Proposals Compared. CarbonPositive. 22 August 2008.

Marketing ecosystem services - exposing challenges for developing country governments and civil society
A new paper published in World Development exposes the difficulties in designing institutions to market forest-carbon and the constraints and challenges facing developing country governments if they are to effectively participate in global markets. These include the unwillingness of some civil society actors to engage in markets, the lack of capacity to implement projects, and the misfit between community, national and international rules.
Click here for a summary of the article


African Forest Research Network - Junior Scientists Fellowship Program

AFORNET is inviting African tree and forest scientists to submit multi-disciplinary and transnational research proposals. The grants are open to promising African scientists affiliated to training and research institutions in Africa who have shown the potential to undertake creative and innovative research in forestry in Africa, whether individually or as a team. Click for more

IDRC Internship Awards
The internships include research on Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE), including work on Payments for Environmental Services. Deadline for receipt of applications: 12 September 2008 (awards will be announced in November or December 2008).
Click for more

Climate Change Fellowship Program

Applications are invited for the inaugural round of African Climate Change Fellowships. The program is jointly administered by the global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START), the Institute of Resource Assessment (IRA) of the University of Dar es Salaam and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), with financial support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. All application materials for this year Program must be submitted no later than 17 September 2008.
Click for more

Journalist fellowships to attend UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland

The Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP) will be providing climate change fellowships for journalists that will include the opportunity to report on the Climate Change Summit, in Poznan, Poland in December 2008.
Click for more


HK Gibbs et al. Carbon payback times for crop-based biofuel expansion in the tropics: the effects of changing yield and technology. Environ. Res. Lett. 3 (2008) 034001 Click for more

Kindermann G, Obersteiner M, Sohngen B, Sathaye J, Andrasko K, Rametsteiner E, Schlamadinger B, Wunder S, and Beach R. Global cost estimates of reducing carbon emissions through avoided deforestation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. vol. 105 no. 30. July 29, 2008. 10302-10307. Click for more

R. Kerry Turner, Stavros Georgiou and Brendan Fisher. Valuing Ecosystem Services - The Case of Multi-functional Wetlands. Earthscan. July 2008. Click for More


Africa Carbon Forum, 3-5 September 2008, Dakar Senegal

Conference: Working Forests in the Tropics October 6-7, 2008

2009 World Forestry Congress, 18-25 October, Buenos Aires

Workshop - Adaptation to climate change: the role of ecosystem services. 3-5 November, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Forest Day 2, 6 December 2008, Poznan Poland (calls for posters, side events and exhibitors).

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