Argentine Groups Oppose Climate Change Tree Planting Project

By Alejandra Herranz

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, September 21, 2000 (ENS) - The proposal of a German non-profit organization to plant a forest in Argentina has generated opposition in the South American country. It has become a test case of how successfully the mechanisms of the international climate agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol can be implemented to reduce global warming.

Prima Klima, a non-governmental organization based in Dusseldorf, was formed in 1991 to contribute to the stabilization of worldwide carbon dioxide levels. Carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of coal, oil and gasoline, is the major greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

Prima Klima plants trees in Germany and other countries to absorb carbon dioxide. Because trees take carbon dioxide from the air, transform it into biomass and release oxygen, forested areas are known as carbon sinks.


Map of South America shows Argentina in darker gold. The blue X marks the province of Chubut. (Map courtesy Argentine Tourism Bureau)
In Argentina, the controversial tree planting project covers an area of 125,000 hectares (308,875 acres) in the province of Chubut located in the Argentine part of Patagonia.

The project involves conservation, ecotourism, forest management, and tree planting in the region surrounding the lakes La Plata and Fontana. It also covers use of a native tree called lenga which has a high value in the international forest products market.

The tree planting is jointly proposed by Prima Klima with the province of Chubut, and the tiny town of Alto Rio Senguer in which the project is located. Other partners are the Patagonian Andes Forest Research and Extension Center (CIEFAP) and the federal agency that used to be the Secretary of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, now part of the Ministry of Social Development and Environment.


Native forest and lake, Chubut province (Photo courtesy Chubut)
The controversy centers on whether planting a forest as a carbon sink in the Southern Hemisphere is an environmentally sound solution to global warming, or just an inexpensive way for countries in the Northern Hemisphere, such as Germany, to achieve required emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Clean Development Mechanism is one of three flexibility mechanisms authorized in the December 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an addition to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The protocol defines limits to the emission of six greenhouse gases for 39 industrialized nations including Germany. Once the protocol is ratified and comes into force, these countries must reduce their greenhouse gases emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-2012.

The Prima Klima afforestation project is intended to work under the Clean Development Mechanism. It offers an opportunity of generating carbon tradable offsets which will eventually be distributed between the province of Chubut and Prima Klima Foundation over a period of 50 years.

Local Chubut environmental groups have opposed the project. They fear the it would increase demand for lenga wood, resulting in more logging of the native tree.


Lenga wood is in demand by furniture makers and artisans. (Photo courtesy Sholar Co.)
Greenpeace Argentina is fiercely opposing the Prima Klima project. "We do not want carbon sink projects as the only tool within the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change," Greenpeace consultant Kristy Hamilton told journalists at the Savoy Hotel in Buenos Aires earlier this month.

The project has received an initial investment of US$2.2 million over five years, according to figures quoted by Greenpeace.

But Prima Klima says that 40 percent of the forest projects it has completed are situated in Germany - in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxonia and Schleswig-Holstein.

The group has conducted other afforestation projects in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Florida, Ecuador, Venezuela, the Congo, Uganda, South Africa, India and Viet Nam for a total of 800 hectares (1,977 acres) planted to date.

Almost all the trees planted in each country are native to the location in which they were placed, Prima Klima says.

Juan Carlos Villalonga, coordinator of the energy campaign of Greenpeace Argentina, points out that the Prima Klima project has not been approved by the Argentine Office of Joint Implementation which oversees projects proposed for emissions credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

At present, the law which backed the agreement of the parties involved in the project was declared unconstitutional in August by Judge Alejandro Javier Panizza in Sarmiento, Chubut. The judge made the ruling in a lawsuit brought by Chubut public defender Marcela Colombini.

Prima Klima has firm funding. Past donors have been municipalities, banks, service and production enterprises and private households, the group says, and further funding is assured for the next years.

It has done research under contract for the European Union and the German Environment Ministry. Prima Klima enjoys the backing of international groups such as the 125 year old United States organization American Forests, a partner since 1991 in American Forests' Global Releaf program. Prima Klima solicits project forest proposals from Global Releaf partners in various countries. Funds raised by Prima Klima are then channeled to the partner organizations who implement their own projects.

Prima Klima and its partners have regenerated or created about 500 square kilometers of new forest, an area equal to about 70,000 football fields. This forest surface will remove approximately 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere, the group claims.

But the opposition of Argentine environmental groups may create a roadblock on the way to tree planting in Chubut that Prima Klima cannot surmount.