Saving Climate AND Reducing Poverty?

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The relationship between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing world poverty may not seem obvious, but there is a link between the two: tropical carbon stocks, especially tropical biomes including forests and savannahs. Protecting and increasing tropical rainforests removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, just as deforestation represents a source of greenhouse gasses. The tropical biomes are also home to large portions of the world's poor. Solutions to poverty and carbon emissions are therefore linked, and a shared vision of the two needs to be developed. It would be as unacceptable to cut down the rainforest to provide agricultural lands to the poor as it would be to enshrine the rainforest and remove the poor, their land tenure and livelihood.

Some encouraging developments are underway. The Terrestrial Carbon Group has outlined principles and strategies for including terrestrial carbon in climate change solutions.Terrestrial Carbon Group -- TCG Blueprint (PDF) International negotiations on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) are developing.

Many international organizations and associations have been formed that focus on mitigating climate change. Yet the World Bank's Report on State and Trends in the Carbon Markets 2007 states "The exuberance of creating value – and enormous wealth – in a new market should not mask the fact that there are costs for mitigation."

What is telling in this quote is an implicit warning that wealth may be collected without follow-through to mitigation, or that the mitigation costs will be higher than the income from credits can fund. In practice, there are many conflicting agendas that arise within developing countries when such large sums of funding are put forth, and there are intricate interplays between forest policy and property rights, between sustainable agriculture, ecology, and climate variability itself. There are issues of monitoring and validation that are key to stabilizing the markets, yet which may intrude upon national sovereignty. In many cases, there are cultural impediments to embracing scientific best practices.

George Mason University has established the Center for Climate and Society to conduct training, policy formulation, solutions application and research in the area of poverty reduction and sustainable economic development related to climate change mitigation through carbon trading, carbon sequestration and land use policy. The Center's purpose is to assist with the implementation of viable mitigation policies by helping to understand the details of the carbon markets, forest protection, economics, social forces, and to apply the most informed scientific research and results to make effective and efficient strategies for sustainable choices. Recognition must be given that solutions will be various and fitted to specific circumstances at both ends of the carbon trading exchange.

These knowledge generation and knowledge management objectives are grounded in two kinds of institutional partnerships: University linkages with developing country institutions contributing experts, students and concrete cases of climate change mitigation and adaptation action; and Corporate collaborators contributing funds, personnel for training, and their offset purchase requirements for reliable projects developed and screened through the Mason Center's network.