THE second National Consultative Workshop on an international plan to limit carbon emissions from forests loss and degradation was held in Harare a week ago, as Zimbabwe seeks strategies for tapping into the growing lucrative market for carbon trading.
In September 2008, the UN established the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) Programme as part of the wider global goal of cutting production of climate change-causing gases. Zimbabwe joined REDD last year.
Under that programme falls the REDD plus or REDD+, a carbon-based compensation mechanism for projects that result in reduced carbon emissions or enhancing carbon sinks or both in tropical forests.
Although Zimbabwe loses an unsustainable 50 million trees per year, according to the Forestry Commission, no public REDD+ projects are running, missing out on benefits that save forests, limit emissions and improve livelihoods for communities that depend on forests.
Now, the country has begun steps to build capacity and improve readiness for implementing REDD+ initiatives.
There is, however, a successful private REDD+ project, which covers four rural district councils currently running in Kariba and close to selling its credits on the international carbon market
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate workshop on March 6 and 7 resolved that Zimbabwe needed a strong REDD+ office at the Forestry Commission to drive the plan and create a credible inventory on the state of forests.
The meeting was facilitated by the Bio-Hub Trust in Harare, a coalition of six local and international NGOs, who are consulting for the Ministry on REDD+.
Building on the outcomes from the first meeting of February 2013, delegates pushed that through the Commission, Government establish pilot projects that look at the different aspects of REDD+, including potential benefits to forest-reliant communities. Newly resettled farmers presented a great opportunity for piloting such activities.
Willing to engage
Forestry expert, Mr Peter Gondo of Safire in Harare, a not-for-profit regional organisation promoting rural development through the sustainable management of natural resources, emphasised the importance of technical forests studies.
“Are we (as a country) willing to start engaging in REDD+ and do we have the technical staff?” he quipped while making a contribution to the debates at the workshop attended by officials from different Government ministries, Unicef, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and civic society.
“Zimbabwe needs capacity to design a good REDD+ project, capacity for a good governance system. We need capacity for measurable, reportable and verifiable REDD+ funding and capacity for a national forestry monitoring system.”
The workshop resolved that Zimbabwe set up a multi-stakeholder steering committee to drive the National REDD+ Plan, which would be linked to the National Climate Change Response Strategy, currently under construction.
The climate strategy aims to mainstream climate change into the country’s budgetary and development processes.
Capacity should be built among known and unknown stakeholders also, while the importance of a clear-cut communication strategy that repackages REDD+ into simple terms understood by communities cannot be downplayed, concluded the workshop.
The Forestry Commission said it needed help for resource mobilisation from the civic society and other developmental partners, such as FAO and the UNDP, but the parent Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate must lead the process.
“While there is an understanding of climate change and its adverse impacts on various sectors and livelihoods in Zimbabwe, the relationship between climate change mitigation and sustainable forest management under REDD+ is less understood,” said Mr Abbie Jiri of the Bio-Hub Trust.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that deforestation and forest degradation contribute globally to approximately 17 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the global transportation sector and third only to the global energy (26 percent) and industrial (19 percent) sectors .
In Zimbabwe, veld fires, tobacco production and agriculture expansion are the leading causes of forest loss and degradation.
Tobacco curing alone decimates 15 percent or 7,5 million trees each year, 2,5 million less the average 10 million trees planted under public programmes yearly.
However, to protect indigenous forests, central Government has instituted legislation encouraging farmers to set-up at least a hectare of eucalyptus for every 10 hectares of tobacco grown, said the Agriculture Ministry at the workshop.There is also a deliberate strategy to promote the establishment of woodlots in both urban and rural areas.
Companies in tobacco and the Tobacco Research Board are now providing tree seedlings for free with every purchase of a hectare’s worth of seed.
In a note prior the second workshop, Director for Environment and Natural Resources in the Climate Ministry said: “Besides carbon dioxide emission reductions, the envisaged national REDD+ frameworks are expected to enhance forest ecosystem functions, the provision of ecosystem services, conservation of biodiversity and equitable benefit sharing.
“It is our hope that the outcomes from this workshop will enhance the stakeholder’s knowledge and understanding of REDD+ based on their current work and create conditions for development of a national REDD+ programme for Zimbabwe.”
The first Stakeholders Consultative Workshop of 2013 found that REDD+ appreciation in Zimbabwe was very poor. The private sector, communities and political leaders are still very much confused about the REDD+ initiative.
Private companies are concerned about the sustainability of such projects going forward. Communities remain indifferent, unsure whether REDD+ will knock off incomes from forests-related activities, raise them or are being tricked by project implementers.
Why Redd+ for Zimbabwe?
The Carbon Green Africa REDD+ project in Kariba mentioned above can help put some issues into proper perspective.
Over a period of 30 years, that project is expected to remove 52 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions equivalent (MtCO2e) from Zimbabwe’s atmosphere, according to the 2013 State of the Forest Carbon Markets report released in December by Ecosystems Marketplace, a global environmental NGO.
The Kariba emissions savings, measured as a carbon unit, credit or offset, will be sold on the international carbon market to developed countries’ companies or governments seeking to compensate for excessive emissions generated in their home economies or elsewhere. Each credit is equivalent to a tonne of carbon dioxide.
Assuming Carbon Green Africa sold its units at $7,8 per tonne, the average price for forestry offsets in 2012, the firm and the communities involved could rake in $406 million cumulatively over three decades.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mai Ndombe project, protecting 300 000 hectares of tropical rainforest, will earn twice that much over a similar period from the estimated 100MtCO2e savings.
Kariba represents only one of the numerous potentials under REDD+, initiatives whose technologies can be transferred and implemented across Zimbabwe with multiple social, economic and environmental benefits.
As with any other market, the risk of price volatility in forest carbon offsets is not eliminated. In 2012, average prices on the Voluntary Carbon Market fell below $6 but grew 9 percent on the compliance market regulated by the UN’s emissions treaty, the Kyoto Protocol. The voluntary market is a smaller independent market where individuals can also participate.
However, price risk will not limit the ecological benefits achieved in controlling Zimbabwe’s rapid forest loss and reducing the carbon footprint, which stood at 25 000 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2000, Climate Ministry statistics show. Carbon credits can be stored and sold later when prices recover.
Worldwide, US$216 million was spent on buying 28 million tonnes of carbon offsets in 2012, helping the sustainable management of 26,5 million hectares of forests.
The money went into projects that plant trees, avoid deforestation, improve forest management, and support low-carbon agriculture.
“It is a unique opportunity to potentially address climate change and rural poverty while conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services.
“Previous approaches failed to meaningfully address deforestation and forest degradation,” Bio-Hub said after the inaugural consultative meeting last year.
The UN REDD Programme website says that “REDD+ strategies go beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in reducing emissions.”
There is over $1,2 billion REDD+ support money from different financiers across the world waiting for applicants. Zimbabwe could benefit from such funding.
With 40 percent (66 percent in 2000) of Zimbabwe’s total land area occupied by forests, the country has great potential to developing and implementing beneficial strategies under the REDD+ umbrella, which may stabilise emissions and climates at micro-level.
Zimbabwe’s forests generate a wide range of both timber and non-timber products, sustaining over 7 000 jobs.
Nearly 21 million hectares of the forests land are indigenous trees and 156 000 hectares under plantations.
REDD strategies aim to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down, by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in trees.
Once this carbon is assessed and quantified, the final phase of REDD involves developed countries paying developing countries carbon offsets for their standing forests, says the UN.
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