Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, and Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced the initiative at a High Level Meeting on Forests and Climate taking place in Sydney. Participants from more than 65 countries, along with several hundred delegates from international, environmental and business organizations are attending the three day meeting.
'The ability to measure and monitor changes in forest cover is critical to international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing global deforestation and supporting sustainable forest management,' Downer said.
'Australia is inviting partner countries to work with us to link national, regional, and international systems to create a truly global system to monitor forest cover and carbon levels,' he said.
Trees and other plants take up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow, through the process of photosynthesis. This decreases the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and helps reduce the greenhouse effect.
Rainforest at Kuranda northwest of Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia (Photo by David W. Hilbert courtesy CSIRO)
The new Global Carbon Monitoring System will be supported by remote sensing satellite monitoring technology and carbon accounting activities on the ground.
Australia plans to build satellite receiving stations to help countries in the Asia Pacific region better monitor their forest cover and carbon.
'By providing better access to historical data and providing timely access to new data, it will support countries' efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation.'
Minister Turnbull said Australia has much to offer other countries. 'Our world-leading National Carbon Accounting System has underpinned Australia's success in reducing land clearing and the associated greenhouse gas emissions,' Turnbull said.
'In 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in Australia from deforestation were 129 million tonnes. These are projected to fall by 65 percent by 2010,' the minister said. 'We have also planted more than 1.1 million hectares of new forests, which by 2010 will remove 21 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.'
In addition, Australia will contribute A$11.7 million (US$10 million) to the World Bank's new Global Forest Alliance to help protect the world's remaining great forests from deforestation and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the ministers said.
Australia is the first country to contribute to the new alliance, and the funds will come out of the $200 million Global Initiative on Forests and Climate.
Another A$10 million will come out of the Global Initiative fund to support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and promote sustainable forest management in Indonesia, the ministers announced.
'This package will help Indonesia develop pilot projects to demonstrate the effectiveness of reducing deforestation; improve local forestry governance; and prevent, monitor and suppress peatland fires, including by training Indonesia's fire fighters and fire management,' Downer said.
Smoky Indonesian peat fires release a great deal of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo Photograph © Global Fire Monitoring Center)
The funds will help support Indonesia's move to develop a forest monitoring and assessment system to generate better forest sector data.
Indonesia's peat lands are made up of undecomposed plant materials and store large quantities of carbon. As a result, fires in peat lands set to clear the land for agriculture, release large amounts of greenhouse gases.
'Australia's assistance will help Indonesian communities reduce forest destruction and encourage sustainable use of forests,' Turnbull said.
'Tackling deforestation is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse emissions in the short term. Together with the World Bank we aim to set the stage for a long term, sustainable approach to addressing deforestation,' the ministers said.
'Global deforestation is a serious issue that impacts on climate change, local economies, and the environment. Every day, more than 70,000 football fields of forest are removed globally – this is around 1.6 billion trees each year. This is a situation we can and must reverse quickly and this Initiative will help us do so,' Turnbull said.
Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown today called on Turnbull to apply his planned satellite watch for clearcut logging at home.
'Mr. Turnbull says 'it is no good' protecting one valley if loggers are clearfelling the valley next door. Well, replace 'valley' with 'island.' It is no good preventing clearfelling on Lombok if they are clearfelling Tasmania,' said Senator Brown, who represents Tasmania in the Australian Parliament.
Logging in Tasmania continues despite court orders and demonstrations. (Photo courtesy Tasmedia)
'His satellite watch would have picked up the recent illegal clearfelling of a forest reserve in the Arve valley of Tasmania,' said Brown. 'It would pick up extensive ecological destruction in East Gippsland and Tasmania.'
'The minister has two standards,' Brown sniped. 'He would be better to follow the lead of New Zealand where all clearfelling of old growth forest has stopped.'
Humane Society International, based in Sydney, has been working with nongovernmental organizations to lobby the Australian government to ensure that 'avoided deforestation,' is included in any carbon emissions trading system developed for Australia.
The NGOs want to ensure forests that are left standing are counted as part of any plan to combat climate change that Australia may seek to join regionally or internationally.
NGOs hope the idea will be taken up seriously by the United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia in December.
Encouraging countries to preserve existing forests with financial incentives would ensure more trees to soak up greenhouse gases, and it also would be 'a big bonus' for biodiversity conservation, the IUCN-World Conservation Union said last week.
The idea of rewarding avoided deforestation was discussed as part of a joint initiative by IUCN and the UN Environment Programme to make beneficiaries of ecosystem services, such as the absorption of carbon by forests, pay for their sustained provision.
Under the proposal, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation Degradation, REDD, a cutback in forest loss would become a new option for complying with international climate change regulations.
It also would mean that countries reducing deforestation could receive carbon credits, which are now emerging as a global market.
Financial rewards for emissions reductions may motivate countries to keep their forests, rather than clearing them for other land uses such as agriculture, proponents say.
The idea is not without its problems, the IUCN points out. There is a the risk that the scheme might move the problem of deforestation elsewhere in the world to places where it would still be more financially viable to clear forests or where countries are not capable of enforcing compliance with REDD policy.
There is also concern over how the money paid to governments would trickle down to the local level and influence the livelihood decisions of people who live in and depend upon forests.