9 December 2008

UQ forestry researcher Dr Peter Dart witnessed climate change first hand as he waded through knee deep water in Hanoi, Vietnam, to get to the office to prepare course materials for an Australian Government-funded symposium and workshop.

"The recent flooding was the worst in 30 years and resulted from a new pattern of high intensity rain," Dr Dart said.

Ironically, Dr Dart was leading a symposium "Preparing for Mitigation of Climate Change" for 150 policy makers and representatives from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal.

The symposium and two following workshops examined forestry management in Mekong countries for carbon sequestration and REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries).

Mekong countries include Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The World Bank, with support from Australia, has established a Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to establish REDD pilots so that countries can become "ready for REDD" at a national level.

Vietnam, Laos and Nepal are among the first countries to be selected to develop a readiness plan to take part in FCPF and Cambodia's application is in the process of being approved.

"About 20 percent of the world's emissions of greenhouse gases come from net deforestation - more than from transport - so REDD has an enormous potential to mitigate climate change and this will have a big impact in the Mekong region," Dr Dart said.

"The Mekong region deltas will be one of the areas in the world most severely affected by sea level rise, with problems already occurring.

"Thirty-nine provinces in Vietnam will be impacted by sea level rise associated with climate change, affecting 1000 of the 10,000 communes."

Dr Dart said REDD was on the agenda at the UN climate change meeting in Poznan, Poland this month, and its role as part of an international agreement on combating climate change will be decided at the next meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2009 in Copenhagen.

"There is little time to waste to get countries to agree how forestry issues will be managed as part of a post-Kyoto agreement by 2012," he said.

"We are trying to prepare Mekong countries for discussions about REDD � what it means and what kind of capacity building is needed for countries to be able to participate.

"There are lots of technical and governance issues, but people in developing countries are excited at the possibility of accessing international carbon markets for REDD which may provide a large stimulus to sustainable development processes.

"If communities and local governments in developing countries can prevent or stop deforestation, then they stand to gain by maintaining forests as carbon sinks which store carbon and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

"The significance of carbon sinks has grown since the Kyoto Protocol, which promotes their use as carbon offsets.

"In the Mekong countries most poor people live in, or near, forests and their livelihoods will be improved by sustainable forest management under a REDD program. In order for this to happen civil society, local and national governments need to work together to establish a protocol for payments in return for environmental services provided by the forests.

"People who buy carbon offsets also need to know the forests are secure, will not be cut down, and that any tonne of carbon they buy is measurable and verifiable.

"Technical issues include how to estimate the rate of deforestation to show that this is being reduced; and how to stop leakage if country X in a region stops logging but country Y in a region then decides to supply the market instead."

Dr Dart said one of the major outcomes was that participants recognised that Mekong countries needed to work together to address the issues most effectively.

The symposium and workshops in Vietnam were conducted by UniQuest, UQ's main commercialisation company, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The symposium and workshops are a component of a project to manage forests in Mekong countries for carbon sequestration and REDD, which is funded by the Australian Government's Asia-Pacific Forestry Skills and Capacity Building Program. Other support came from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, German Technical Cooperation, the Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific, the Netherlands Development Agency and ITC University.

They attracted attendees and presenters from 10 countries, including several Nobel Laureates.

A further workshop on sustainable forest management for carbon sequestration and payment for environmental services will be held in Hue, central Vietnam in February, 2009.

Media: Jan King telephone 07 3365 1120 or Dr Peter Dart, telephone 07 3365 2867, mobile 0411 276 593
email p.dart@uq.edu.au