2 December 2009

Embargoed until 2:00 pm U.S. Eastern Time Thursday, 03 December 2009

Queensland researchers have unveiled a new strategy for saving the world’s forests on the eve of crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen.

Published today in leading journal Science, the research suggests wealthy countries participate in a carbon payment system to encourage developing countries to keep their forests to avert a looming extinction crisis, in addition to avoiding dangerous climate change.

Experts from The University of Queensland and James Cook University assessed the ability to slow down species extinctions using both carbon-focused and biodiversity-focused strategies.

“We found that, dollar for dollar, a carbon-focused approach will contribute little to slowing biodiversity loss and save far fewer species than will a biodiversity-focused strategy that targets the most imperilled forests,” said lead author and The University of Queensland researcher Oscar Venter.

The study reveals if carbon payments focus narrowly on carbon and ignore threatened biodiversity, carbon-trading alone won’t be enough to stave off large-scale extinctions of tropical species, according to co-author Dr Kerrie Wilson from The University of Queensland.

“The problem is that the Amazon basin in South America, where there’s still quite a lot of surviving forest, is the cheapest place to reduce emissions, but threatened species are concentrated in countries like Madagascar and the Philippines, where only a few scraps of forest remain,” said co-author Professor William Laurance from James Cook University.

Fortunately, the authors found that a compromise is possible.

“If you tweak things a little, putting some carbon funds into countries that are good value for carbon but also biodiversity-rich, like Cameroon and the Philippines, you can save twice as many threatened species and still do a great deal to combat global warming,” said co-author and director of The University of Queensland’s Ecology Centre Professor Hugh Possingham.

Mr Venter said billions of dollars will be spent on forest carbon initiatives in the next decade, and these could hold huge benefits for vanishing ecosystems and wildlife if engineered in the right way.

The team’s findings are expected to draw much attention at the forthcoming climate negotiations in Copenhagen, where international leaders are hoping to hammer out a final strategy for combating global warming.

Media Contacts:
Oscar Venter, oventer@uq.edu.au, +61-4-0496-7271, +61-7-3365-1589
Professor William Laurance, bill.laurance@jcu.edu.au +61-7-4038-1518, +61-7-4042-1819
Professor Hugh Possingham, h.possingham@uq.edu.au +61-4-3407-9061 (USA Dec-4-12)
Dr Kerrie Wilson, k.wilson2@uq.edu.au +45-35-331-855 (Copenhagen)
Tracey Franchi, Biological Sciences Communications Manager, t.franchi@uq.edu.au, +61-7-3365-4831