AgBioResearcher Helps Lead International Carbon Assessment Project

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David Skole is leading a project to foster development in poor regions while protecting the environment. (view larger image)

An MAES forestry scientist is working with top international organizations to determine how best to foster development in poor regions while protecting the environment.

The World Wildlife Fund selected MSU to partner in a $5 million, 18-month project to develop systems to measure, monitor and manage carbon in landscapes worldwide. The tools developed under that tight deadline will help growers around the world better protect their land, improve productivity and fight global climate change.

“This is funding our carbon-to-markets model,” explained David Skole, MAES researcher, who studies global change science. “We’re looking at the carbon stocks on the land. In trees and vegetation, 50 percent by weight is carbon in some form. ThatÂ’s why you can turn trees into fuel.”

Carbon dioxide is an increasingly prevalent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Trees and other vegetation trap, or sequester, that carbon, and in a world market where carbon emissions or captures are tallied and assigned value, growers in poor nations could profit from their land use choices.

Skole and his colleagues conceived the project two years ago and have worked with the funder, the Global Environment Facility, since then to bring it to fruition. They anticipate about $1.2 million as their share of funding for the brief pilot phase, and they expect another, follow-on phase to widen the scope to perhaps 10 countries.

Their role now will be to help develop methods to establish carbon baselines and outcomes from land use activities in three developing countries in Africa and Asia. The MSU group is specifically charged with developing remote satellite imaging systems to measure terrestrial carbon-sequestering activities in a variety of landscapes. Such methods then could be adopted by development programs worldwide to help assess their environmental impacts, Skole said.

Researchers aim to monitor forestry and crop activities in remote villages and calculate the value of carbon sequestration that local growers provide. Ultimately, Skole said, that could allow even the remotest populations to participate in worldwide carbon markets such as the Chicago Climate Exchange, in which MSU participates.

The Carbon Benefits Project is funded by the Global Environment Facility, which joins 178 nations with international agencies, institutions and the private sector to fund sustainable development initiatives in developing and transitioning countries. The GEF has put $8.3 billion of direct funding into such projects since 1991 and now aims to promote environmental sustainability as well as economic development, Skole said.

“What they need is a tool to assess their carbon and climate impacts, both positive and negative,” he explained.

MSU‘s technical work partner in the project is the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, Kenya, which will do site analysis on the ground. The Center for International Forestry Research, headquartered in Bogor Barat, Indonesia, is another project participant. The project is administered for the independent GEF and the United Nations Environment Programme by the World Wildlife Fund.

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