Monday, April 5, 2010

Planting Trees is Critical to Haitian Recovery Efforts

By Olivier Jarda

One of the most effective ways to help Haiti prepare for and mitigate the damage of future disasters is to plant trees.

Haiti's lack of tree cover is a perpetual recipe for disaster, poverty and death. Tropical Storm Jeanne demonstrated this in 2004 when it sent a destructive surge of mud and water down barren mountains through the city of Gonaïves, killing close to 3,000 people and taking out homes, livestock and businesses along the way.

Much of this damage could have been prevented if Haiti had forests left to act as a natural barrier against high winds, and roots to keep soil in place. But centuries of deforestation for charcoal, logging and land clearance have left this once verdant paradise with only 2 percent of its original forest cover. Shockingly, even that 2 percent is being rapidly eliminated, with 50 million trees felled every year.

As compelling as the reasons are to reforest Haiti, the sad truth is that they haven't been compelling enough to stop deforestation or jump-start widespread reforestation. Over the years, the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars to curb logging in Haiti, but these efforts have been mostly ineffective.

Earlier initiatives for reforestation under US AID programs have enjoyed limited success, as their efforts have been overshadowed by deforestation. This is because Haitians continue to rely on timber-intensive charcoal to cook their food and as a cheap source of fuel. They stand to gain more from cutting forests down than they do from leaving them intact.

The good news is that pending U.S. climate policy legislation presents an opportunity to do what prior efforts, though well intentioned, were never able to achieve. The legislation values forests for the immense amounts of carbon they store. Based on carbon prices in U.S. markets, forests like those found in Haiti would suddenly be worth $10,000 per hectare standing. Adding such market-based incentives will mean Haitians and others will have far more to gain by protecting their forests than by cutting them down.

The legislation complements this change by including financial assistance to reduce charcoal dependence and utilize alternatives with smaller environmental footprints, including solar energy and biodiesel fuels.

However, the legislation currently has a giant gap that risks leaving countries like Haiti out of the equation because it restricts crediting for reforestation projects to those that were sanctioned under the Kyoto Protocol.

Unfortunately, this is tantamount to leaving reforestation efforts out of the picture entirely. The Kyoto Protocol allowed industrialized countries to invest in emission reducing initiatives in developed countries, but the red tape over approving reforestation projects has been virtually impenetrable. Eight years after Kyoto, in about 2,000 registered projects, only eight have been for reforestation activities. The pending U.S. climate policy bill should include a mechanism that promotes these activities.

Including these provisions will provide reforestation programs with stronger incentives and much-needed funds.

Such measures won't only help countries like Haiti. Reforestation is one of the most cost-effective ways for U.S. emitters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Having dedicated offsets for reforestation activities in U.S. climate legislation will benefit domestic consumers by lowering the cost of abatement for firms in the near term, and easing their transition to more sustainable energy consumption.

The United States is starting to recognize that protecting the world's existing forests is absolutely vital to providing a livable planet for future generations. But unless climate policy ensures that reforestation actually happens, countries like Haiti will remain vulnerable to vicious cycles of devastating natural disasters, poverty and instability.

Olivier Jarda is a policy associate focusing on forests and climate change at Avoided Deforestation Partners, a project of the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C. His parents are Haitian.

Source: Sun-Sentinel

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