India’s tiger protection programme has brought with it significant carbon benefits in the form of avoided deforestation, and shows that allowing carbon crediting can pay for a substantial part of the costs associated with species conservation projects even when they take place in a protected area, according to a study published this week.
Carbon credits with biodiversity co-benefits trade at a premium in the voluntary market, though so far there has been few if any financial compensation measures for biodiversity projects with climate co-benefits.
But in a study published in the journal Nature on Thursday, a team of scientists from the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions found that species protection schemes can lead to significant carbon emissions savings.
The study found that areas that in 2005 were designated status as tiger reserves under India’s Project Tiger saved around 1.1 million tonnes of CO2e over 2007-20 through avoided deforestation compared to trends before they were given that status.
Based on a carbon credit price of $5.80 per tonne for units with co-benefits, the authors estimated India could have made around $6 million over that period in carbon credit sales if the project had qualified.
The project also helped India avoid over $90 mln in avoided social costs of carbon, while saving the tiger from the brink of extinction.
“Biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation are intimately linked, but have historically been addressed as separate challenges. However, there is an urgent need to align both goals and synergise resource allocation for achieving these objectives given the rapid pace of global biodiversity declines and the rising impacts of climate change,” the authors said.
“[A] biodiversity-first approach, which helps quantify the downstream benefits of biodiversity preservation on climate mitigation targets, can help further incentivise species conservation programmes while achieving climate action through the avoided social cost of the loss of natural ecosystems.”
In practice, projects like India’s tiger protection programme won’t qualify for carbon credits, because they take place on protected land and therefore wouldn’t pass the additionality test with most carbon methodologies.
But the study stressed that many protected areas are known to function as ‘paper parks”, with continued degradation within their boundaries, reducing their impact.
“This can stem from a variety of reasons, including a shortfall in funding. Revenues from the trade of fungible carbon offsets, which represent standardised and internationally tradable reductions in emissions, arising from the recognition of the climate change mitigation benefits associated with biodiversity conservation can serve as a means of closing this funding gap.”
Going far beyond tigers in India, such a change in the approach to crediting could benefit wildlife protection across the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.
India’s budget for Project Tiger in FY2020-21 was close to $27 million, and while annual emissions savings of around 80,000 would be a limited contribution towards that, it would help, especially in combination with a framework to recognise the roughly $7 mln in annual social costs avoided from the emissions reductions.
As well, while most of the reserves significantly reduced deforestation rates after their elevation in status, a minority saw rates increase, and increased funding might help address the individual factors driving those rates.
“There is an urgent need for additional financial resources to close the funding gap for species conservation, and we show that there are clear synergies between such biodiversity conservation policies and carbon markets. This represents a missed opportunity, where adjustments to the carbon markets could divert money to fund conservation and benefit local communities,” the report said.
“However, given the historical costs of conservation policies borne by local communities around tiger reserves, particularly through displacement, it is crucial that future attempts to integrate tiger conservation policy into carbon markets be cognisant of the cultural, social, and economic needs of local communities, whose participation is crucial in equitable and effective conservation.”
The report comes just weeks after the UNDP said it is in talks with India as well as Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand to create a bond generating between $50-200 mln to help support tiger ecosystem protection, with successful activities then to be monetised by the sale of “high integrity biodiversity credits”.
By Stian Reklev – email@example.com
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