PES, Present and Future: the Year in Environmental Finance

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By Steve Zwick

 5 January 2010 | As we rolled into the current century just over a decade ago, most of us took stock not just of 1999, but of the entire 20th Century.  Ten years later, the New Year’s retrospectives have focused not just on the most recent year, but on the entire first decade of this new century – apropos for Ecosystem Marketplace, since 2009 marked the tenth anniversary of EM publisher Forest Trends, the environmental non-profit organization that has also spawned the Katoomba Group, the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP)SpeciesBanking.com,ForestCarbonPortal.com, the Chesapeake Fund, as well as numerous "incubator" projects around the world designed to preserve nature by quantifying the economic value of living ecosystems and developing payments for ecosystem services (PES) to keep them going.


PES schemes were hatched throughout this past decade, with the most successful being species banking and wetland mitigation banking in the United States.  Both, however, were overshadowed in the collective mind of the general public by the global carbon markets, many of which incorporate PES components built around the premise that you can promote sustainable land-use practices by paying for the sequestration of carbon in trees.  Although the only true PES carrot to make it into the Kyoto Protocol was a provision for generating carbon offsets by planting trees, support grew throughout 2009 for schemes that save existing trees – and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

 

2009: the Regulatory Fronts

To casual observers, REDD seemed to come out of nowhere in the lead-up to the year-end Climate-Change Conference in Copenhagen, and it became one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal Copenhagen Accord.  That non-binding agreement called for the development of a mechanism for promoting “REDD-plus”, which is REDD plus "enhancement of carbon stocks" (reforestation), "conservation" (recognition of efforts to protect forests that are not immediately in danger) and "sustainable forest management" (harvesting mature trees and other practices).  It failed, however, to create a framework within which that mechanism can function.

Meanwhile, REDD and REDD-plus are featured in all proposed climate-change legislation working through the US Congress, as well as in the evolving blueprints for post-Kyoto carbon trading in the European Union and Australia.  An upcoming EM report (see "Forest Carbon Report", right) will show that markets for forest carbon have grown in both scope and sophistication without a compliance driver -- but not enough to incentivize the kind of change needed to save the rainforests and slow global warming.

On the broader PES front, the US Department of Agriculture opened the Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets (OESM) to provide a framework within which schemes can achieve their true potential – even as a survey showed that local authorities across the country were unevenly enforcing new rules implemented a year earlier for offsetting wetland loss.

These fledgling markets gained credibility in 2009, when financial services information providerMarkit  bought  TZ1, one of three registries helping to keep track of carbon credits under the Voluntary Carbon Standard.  The new Markit Environmental Registry has been working with mitigation bankers to develop next-generation instruments and infrastructure to help project developers and potential buyers keep track of existing offsets and create a secondary market, which will make future trading easier.

Meanwhile, water quality trading took a leap into the present with the launch of the Chesapeake Fund, a massive pilot project spearheaded by Forest Trends and designed to serve as a template – or at least a learning experience – for compliance schemes across the world.

 

Katoomba Meetings Take it Global

Two Global Katoomba Meetings helped put REDD and REDD-plus on the trajectory to Copenhagen and seed next-generation markets around the world.

First, the Spring meeting in Cuiaba, Brazil, drew thousands and led to the adoption of the Cuiaba Declaration – one of many points of agreement among Amazon stakeholders that led Brazil’s federal government into the REDD fold.  This meeting also helped spread awareness and understanding of environmental finance in general.

Later, in Accra, businessmen, academics, and government representatives examined the unique economic forces converging on West Africa’s equally unique ecology as oil development impacts mangroves and other coastal ecosystems.  The launch of the West Africa Katoomba Incubator means the creation of new pilot projects in the region.  These will harvest the experience of incubators in Latin America and add to that growing body of knowledge for future projects around the world.

Finally, the Forest Trends Communities and Markets Program commissioned a legal analysis that determined that Brazil’s indigenous people own the rights to carbon sequestered on protected lands – offering them another tool for protecting their heritage while tapping into the global economy.

 

Impending Challenges

The year 2010 offers scores of new questions and challenges – chief among them being how to deal with climate change.  

As REDD-plus takes hold, more and more participants are calling for the creation of new means of measuring the degree to which rainforest custodians should be rewarded for their actions.  McKinsie & Company has proposed abandoning the current method of establishing reference levels for REDD projects – which essentially involves examining current rates of deforestation and giving credit for improving that – and instead suggests more subjective methods that take into account the opportunity cost presented by alternate land uses. 

Indeed, the larger issue of additionality is coming under scrutiny as environmental finance comes into competition with other land-use income streams.  As the year closed out, the debate over how to reward practices that promote or preserve multiple environmental benefits is moving front and center – and promises to remain a hot-button issue for years to come.

The larger issue of the economy hangs over US environmental markets – for if there is no new development, there will be little in the way of need for environmental offsets.

Globally, 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity – yet no one expects anyone to meet their 2010 targets when theConference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity convenes in Japan in October.

Environmental finance will not solve any of these problems alone, but it can help draw attention to the economic value of nature's vanishing services.  That, as they say, is not a sharp stick in the eye – but neither is it a panacea.



Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of the Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at SZwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com

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