Wetenschap - 19 september 2002

Creative ways to fight global warming in Ecuador

Creative ways to fight global warming in Ecuador

Ecuador can become an example for other countries when it comes to fighting global warming, says PhD student Pablo Benitez. As the forests are disappearing, a natural buffer against increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is at risk, so active measures are badly needed. A small country like Ecuador can make a contribution to the worldwide fight against climate change.

Benitez, who works at the Environmental Economics and Natural Resources Group in Wageningen, is convinced of this. "The problem of carbon emissions in Ecuador is small if you compare it with large countries like the US, the former Soviet Union, Germany and Brazil. But Ecuador should be seen as a typical tropical country facing rapidly changing land-use dynamics, which lead to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. For example, the rate of deforestation in Ecuador is about 1.2% per year and this is comparable with 1.2% in Indonesia and 0.4% in Brazil." As trees are felled and harvested, carbon returns to the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, where it will enhance the greenhouse effect.

"The emissions caused by deforestation occur both in West Ecuador, part of the Choco region, and in East Ecuador in the Amazon basin," says Benitez. Before he came to Wageningen he worked in carbon sequestration projects in the West of Ecuador, where forests have been planted in order to function as a carbon sink. "In Ecuador they have planted already 20,000 hectares of forests. But in order to evaluate the real success of these projects, we have to wait and see whether the carbon remains stored in these forests for at least some decades."

Benitez sees trouble ahead: he thinks tree growth and carbon uptake in the coming years are difficult to predict due to the risk of catastrophic events such as fire and pests in Ecuador. "These risks will increase with global warming."

If the carbon sequestration projects do not turn out to be viable, Ecuador has many other ways to fight global warming and at the same time cut energy costs, says Benitez. "Options include improving the energy efficiency of industry, collecting methane emissions in landfills, or upgrading the public transport system."

Hugo Bouter

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