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Bolivia gets clean by staying green

Project pays Bolivia for the forests it does not cut - a potential model in the battle against climate change.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 5, 2008

‘Lost World’: The Ahlfeld Waterfall (shown) and the Arco Iris Waterfall are highlights of the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park in Bolivia. The falls may have inspired Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel.

Sara Miller Llana


Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia

From the air, this 3.7-million-acre national park in northeastern Bolivia seems a vast carpet of lush timberland, cloaking jaguars, howler monkeys, and giant anteaters beneath. Outside the tiny window of a three-seat plane, the terrain rises from rainforest to flooded savannah. There is not a person in sight.

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But in the distance is a trail of lighter, younger canopy the width of a road, a remnant from when logging paths carved this forest into pieces. That was before The Nature Conser­vancy, its Bolivian partner Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN), the Bolivian government, and three international energy companies devised a plan to protect 1.5 million acres threatened with deforestation and degradation. The idea was simple: This national park in the Amazon basin, perhaps the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World,” would do its part to fight climate change.

It is perhaps the best current example of how poor countries and rich countries can come together in the fight against climate change. It is a model of research and monitoring; it’s a lesson in the benefit of involving the central government; and it’s a cautionary tale about the need to include the local community as a full partner.

The Noel Kempff Climate Action Project is a prime global case study. As negotiators work this week and next in Bonn to craft a new climate agreement to take effect in 2013, a consensus has emerged on the crucial role forest protection plays in re­ducing greenhouse-gas emissions, and en­­vironmentalists are looking at an international carbon-trading model as an incentive to save forests. It is called REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Now countries are looking to devise two-year pilot projects, in which rich nations pay poorer ones to conserve their forests. Not everyone agrees this mechanism is valid, mainly because its track record is so short.

But here in Bolivia, a REDD program that’s been under way for more than a decade has lessons for some of the concept’s more controversial features, including measurement impediments, the role that indigenous communities should play, and the support required from national governments.

Today the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project is the largest of its kind and the only one in the world to be independently verified: “Noel Kempff is the first project in the world that comprehensively included every type of deforestation and degradation in a full-blown carbon accounting scheme,” says Joerg Seifert-Granzin, head of the environmental services unit of FAN in Bolivia.

“It was meant to stimulate scientific development,” Mr. Seifert-Granzin says. But as REDD has become central to the debate on how to bring developing countries into a new global climate treaty, “people realize that there is an amazing experience in this project on how to deal with carbon accounting, how to generate benefits for biodiversity preservation, and how to generate benefits for sustainable development of indigenous communities.”

Environmentalists were wary of REDD

In December in Bali, Indonesia, at a United Nations conference on climate change, world leaders agreed to establish a timeline and road map for future negotiations. There, the World Bank announced it will use $100 million to help 20 nations prepare projects for their eventual participation in REDD systems.