Tropical Forest Protection, Uncertainty and Carbon Policy Integrity

Tropical forests are estimated to release approximately 1.7 PgC per year as a result of deforestation. Avoiding tropical deforestation could potentially play a significant role in carbon mitigation over the next 50 years if not longer. Many policymakers and negotiators are skeptical of our ability to reduce deforestation effectively. They fear that if credits for avoided deforestation are allowed to replace fossil fuel emission reductions for compliance with Kyoto, the environment will suffer because the credits will not reflect truly additional carbon storage.

This paper considers the nature of the uncertainties involved in estimating carbon stocks and predicting deforestation. We build an empirically based stochastic model that combines data from field ecology, geographical information system (GIS) data from satellite imagery, economic analysis and ecological process modeling to simulate the effects of these uncertainties on the environmental integrity of credits for avoided deforestation.

We find that land use change, and hence additionality of carbon, is extremely hard to predict accurately and errors in the numbers of credits given for avoiding deforestation are likely to be very large. We also find that errors in estimation of carbon storage could be large and could have significant impacts. We find that in Costa Rica, nearly 42% of all the loss of environmental integrity that would arise from poor carbon estimates arises in one life zone, tropical wet. This suggests that research effort might be focused in this life zone.