Australia invests in genetically improved ‘carbon sinks’ in Vietnam

Not only looking to develop practical use of ‘carbon sinks’, allowed under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia has planted genetically enhanced forests in Vietnam which absorb greater amounts of carbon dioxide, ensuring that targets are met as cheaply and effectively as possible.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has teamed up with Vietnam’s Research Centre for Forest Tree Improvement (RSFTI), for the US $242,000 scheme to plant 8,250 hectares of forests over five years which are expected to absorb 21,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 15% more than would be the case with non-genetically improved. The two fast-growing plant species, Acacia crassicarpa and Eucalyptus tereticornis, imported from Australia, have been planted after seed from naturally-occurring stock was selected. This stock will be far more able to sequester carbon than with routine planting involving unselected seed-stock.

The project, taking place near Hanoi, is funded by the Australian government’s International Greenhouse Partnerships Programme, which encourages developing countries to participate in carbon-offset projects. The incentives for using poorer and tropical nations are considerable. Land and labour are generally far cheaper in developing countries, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the cost of planting ‘carbon sinks’ in tropical countries could be as low as US $0.1 per tonne of carbon absorbed as against US $100 per tonne of absorbed carbon for similar projects in dry or temperate ones.

The governmental Australian Greenhouse Office says that the species used will not harm Vietnam’s biodiversity as they are already found in the country. “Vietnam has been subjected to major levels of deforestation in recent decades,” Mark Stevens of the Australian Government’s International Greenhouse Partnerships Office told edie. “As a result, the Vietnamese Government aims to reforest 5 million hectares in the coming decades through the establishment of both plantations and regenerated native forests. This project between Vietnam and Australia is contributing towards the overall reforestation goals of the Vietnamese Government.

However the effectiveness of ‘carbon sinks’ has recently been cast into doubt by two recent research projects (see related story). There are also uncertainties over measuring carbon dioxide absorbed by forests, and the risk of stored carbon dioxide being released back into the atmosphere due to fire or pest outbreaks. Such problems are compounded in case of sinks projects in developing countries with lesser resources and inadequate infrastructure.

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