Australia pays to reduce Asia's emissions


Source: UPI Asia - August 21, 2008; Shailesh Palekar, Brisbane, Australia

Australia released an initial US$2 million Tuesday out of a US$13.7 million fund for Asia-Pacific nations to help protect forests and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the government announced Tuesday. The first two beneficiaries will be Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Tony Burke, Australia’s minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry, made the announcement following a meeting Tuesday with Papua New Guinea’s minister for forests, Belden Namah, in the country’s capital city of Port Moresby. Burke was scheduled to travel to Indonesia to meet that country’s forestry minister, M.S. Kaban, in Jakarta on Thursday.

These two countries will each receive US$350,000 for skills training and capacity building in forest certification and US$260,000 for professional education in sustainable forest management, in addition to support for other specific projects.

“Today’s announcement supports Australia’s commitment at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in December 2007 to support action on deforestation in developing countries as part of a global response to climate change,” Burke said. “The Asia-Pacific Forestry Skills and Capacity Building Program will help tackle climate change by assisting countries in the region with their forest management expertise, combating illegal logging, and boosting the storage of carbon in their forests.”

The million-dollar funding, aimed at tackling worsening deforestation and forest degradation in Asia-Pacific’s worst-hit countries, is the first to be provided under Australia’s four-year program to assist the region with sustainable forest management. The US$13.7 million program will fund an initial 18 projects in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. Funds will go to research, conservational, intergovernmental, industry and non-governmental groups to support sustainable forest management and improve forest law enforcement and governance.

The funds will help decelerate deforestation in countries like Indonesia, where forests are dwindling at the fastest rate in the world. The long-term goal is to tackle climate change by improving forest management, decreasing illegal logging – which challenges the sustainable management of forests and takes an economic and social toll on socieites – and boosting carbon storage in forests.

Forests are natural carbon storehouses. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s forests store about 50 percent more carbon that the amount in the atmosphere. Deforestation, which releases this carbon into the atmosphere, is responsible for some 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, Burke said.

Allocating funds for specific projects is expected to increase transparency in the auditing and progress of projects, especially in countries like Indonesia where rampant corruption often prevents aid from reaching grassroots levels.

For Australia, this is part of a plan to play a greater international leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has committed to a US$174 million International Forest Carbon Initiative, which seeks to increase international forest carbon monitoring and accounting capacity. By demonstrating that forests can be monitored effectively through advanced remote sensing, Australia wants to prove that preventing deforestation can measurably reduce emissions.

In addition, analysts say this move to address a major issue and infuse funds into the region shows Australia’s determination to become a major stakeholder in the region.

Also, engaging more closely with its Asia-Pacific neighbors is expected to benefit Australia economically. The government is strongly opposed to illegal logging and the importation of illegally sourced timber products. It wants to ensure that timber imported into Australia is from legal and sustainably managed sources and that Australian timber producers are viewed as global leaders in international markets.

At a Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on Wednesday, Member of Parliament Bill English said that climate change awareness would create new markets for environmentally friendly products. Demand for low-carbon products would be worth at least US$350 billion per year by 2050, he said, as countries and consumers would be willing to pay for climate-friendly products and innovations.

In this case, Australia’s funding for the region could turn into a lucrative investment option with handsome dividends in the long term, rather than a mere donation to protect fragile ecosystems.