Africa benefits from new mapping to curb climate change and boost biodiversity

Africa, as well as Asia and Latin America, are three continents that are currently benefitting from a new mapping strategy, where a country’s carbon stocks overlap with areas that are rich in wildlife and important for local peoples’ livelihoods, a statement issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has disclosed.

According to the statement issued in Nagoya, Japan, the aim is to support international efforts to conserve forests in order to combat climate change, but in a way that delivers other benefits including conservation of economically-important ecosystems linked with water, fertile soils and other crucial services.

Countries in Africa already benefitting from the new mapping system are Nigeria and Tanzania, with D.R. Congo also high on the agenda.

Highlights of the African countries in the new mapping system indicate that the Federal Republic of Nigeria holds 7.5 Gigatonnes (Gt) of land-based carbon. The largest areas of high carbon density are found in the southern parts of the country, mostly along the Niger Delta and in the rainforest regions.

It states that approximately 4% of Nigeria’s total land-based carbon stock is in areas of importance for bird species (Important Bird Areas; IBAs), and more than 8% is found in Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee distribution areas.

Significantly, about 15% of Nigeria’s carbon stock is inside existing Protected Areas and 86% of the carbon within IBAs is protected.

“As Africa’s primary oil producer, Nigeria has allocated a considerable amount of land for the purposes of oil and exploration. Understanding how this land is distributed relative to carbon stocks can help identify where carbon stocks may come under pressure from oil and gas development in the future.

Approximately 13% of Nigeria’s total carbon stock (0.97 Gt) is located in land that has been designated for oil and gas exploration,” the statement says.

On the other hand, Tanzania’s total land-based stock of carbon is estimated to be close to 12 Gt with the Kilimanjaro region, at 359 tonnes per hectare, and the Kagera region at close to 200 tonnes per hectare having the highest density of carbon in their vegetation and soils.

It says Tanzania is rich in biodiversity, with 359 mammal species and 183 species of amphibians, with species range data indicating that many areas potentially rich in mammals and amphibians coincide with areas of high carbon density.

Meanwhile, the country’s Protected Areas network stores around a third of national carbon stocks.  However, nearly a quarter of the country’s carbon is found in areas of high carbon density that are currently outside formal Protected Areas.

One source of pressure on carbon stocks in Tanzania, the statement reveals, is human-caused fires, adding that in 2006-2007 such fires may have affected 180 metric tons of biomass carbon. Of this amount, 30% occurred in high carbon density areas, which are most likely to suffer long-term fire damage to carbon stocks.

The maps, being compiled by a partnership led by the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), are overlaying the carbon held in the vegetation and soils of a country’s terrestrial ecosystems with other key features.

These include population densities; economic activities such as honey and gum production; the location of existing Protected Areas and biodiversity.

Ascribing the reason for the new mapping, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The aim is to assist governments in setting priorities for carbon investments. In Tanzania for example, several carbon rich parts of the country are in areas where the ranges of almost 70% of the country’s mammal species overlap”.

“The mapping also reveals that almost a quarter of Tanzania’s total carbon stocks are in high carbon density areas that are not formally protected. This is the kind of science and analysis that governments from Ecuador to Cambodia are also now looking at to maximise the benefits of investments in REDD+ and accelerate a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy,” he added.

UNEP-WCMC’s work is being supported through two streams of funding: the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and the UN-REDD Programme.

Maps have already been developed for Cambodia; Jiangxi Province in China; Ecuador; Honduras; apart from Nigeria and Tanzania, while under the UN-REDD Programme, UNEP-WCMC is expecting to do further work for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia.

The launch of the new mapping system coincides with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th Conference of the Parties Meeting in Nagoya where progress on the 2010 Biodiversity Target committed to by the world’s governments will be reviewed, and other issues, including biodiversity and climate change, will be considered.

The launch of the reports comes in advance of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Cancun, Mexico this November, where moving forward on REDD+ will be high on the agenda.

Also sharing his thoughts on the new maps, Jon Hutton, Director of UNEP-WCMC, said: “Tropical forests host more than two thirds of the world’s terrestrial species, and provide vital ecosystem services that help to maintain people’s livelihoods. With global biodiversity under unprecedented threat, identifying areas that are high in both carbon and biodiversity offers an opportunity to direct scarce financial resources in ways that create win-win situations for climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.”

Under the UNFCCC, governments are negotiating a mechanism to provide payments for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation plus additional forest “activities” (REDD+), with the aim of halving deforestation by 2020.

It is estimated that currently close to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions—equivalent to around six Gigatonnes (Gt) of C02 – are linked with land use change, mainly through forest loss. In 2004, this amounted to more greenhouse gas emissions than those of the transport sector.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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