Saving Forests can be a potent weapon in the fight against climate change. India wants UN funds for not only protecting the existing forests but also afforestation

Once upon a time, Pekanbaru was a sleepy river port town on the Sungai Siak, a sluggish river that drains into the Straits of Malacca.
To know why, take a light to Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province in Sumatra. And remember to look out when the aircraft nears its destination.

The area that these plantations now occupy once belonged to the rainforests, the world’s natural carbon sinks. Every time these rainforests are cleared, heat trapping carbon gases are released, making the battle against climate change a degree stiffer.

The rate of Indonesia’s forests destruction is about 1.1 million hectares a year. That’s what makes it the world’s third – largest greenhouse gas emitter, after the US and China. India comes fourth.

But the Copenhagen climate conference could hand out a survival kit for these forests when negotiators discuss a United Nations programme called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forests Degradation in Developing Counting (REDD).

This is how the REDD mechanism will work: when you preserve a patch of rainforest, you prevent a certain amount of carbon from entering the atmosphere. This saving can then be converted into millions of carbon – off – set credits, which can be sold to rich countries and companies trying to meet their emissions reduction targets.

Critics say that funds generated from the REDD mechanism should not go to afforestation and plantations, as they have doubtful carbon sequestration value, but only to stopping deforestation and then to natural regeneration of forests areas.

The Indian government supports REDD and wants it to not only cover protection of existing forests but also its afforestation programmes. A fifth of India is forests, which absorbs about 11% of the country’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.