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BOGOR, Indonesia (14 December, 2012)_Chinese companies can now buy carbon offsets from local bamboo plantations, thanks to a new accounting method that can determine how much carbon is stored in these unique, rapidly-expanding ecosystems.
The methodology – developed by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and its Chinese partners, The China Green Carbon Foundation and the Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University, was approved last month by the state forestry administration.
“This is a really big breakthrough,” said Yannick Kuehl, a climate change expert at INBAR who helped develop the technique. “This means that now bamboo is recognised as carbon offset, and as a tool for climate change mitigation measures.”
Although it makes up just 2.8% of China’s total forest area, bamboo is one of the country’s fastest expanding and most valuable forest land uses. In the past 20 years, the bamboo sector in the country has boomed from subsistence farming to a US$14 billion industry.
New CIFOR research has shown that bamboo makes an important contribution to rural development in poor areas of China, both for subsistence and as cash income.
“China is a bamboo ‘kingdom’”, said Li Nuyun, Secretary General of the China Green Carbon Foundation.
“The multi-benefits generated from bamboo carbon plantations are an attractive asset in the carbon market.”
As plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their cells – preventing it from contributing to climate change.
Different plants store carbon at different rates.
“Bamboo is a grass, not a tree, so it has very different growth characteristics – it grows a lot faster, up to a metre per day, and it is highly renewable – so that’s why we needed specific mechanisms to capture the benefits and advantages of bamboo,” Kuehl said.
Bamboo forms extensive underground rhizome and root systems which can live for 100 years, can extend up to 100 kilometres per hectare, and store significant amounts of carbon. Even if the bamboo stems are harvested, the underground carbon is not lost into the atmosphere, as the plant continues to live.
And while using the stems can potentially produce some carbon emissions, bamboo’s rapid growth means that the carbon that is lost through harvesting is usually replaced within a year.
In fact, if harvested bamboo is turned into durable products, the ecosystem actually stores more carbon when it is being used productively, than if it is left to grow wild – as the harvesting process spurs the plant to produce a higher biomass each year.
“This means managed bamboo forests can generate benefits for both farmers and the environment at the same time,” Kuehl said.
The differences between bamboo and forests mean a specific method for calculating how much carbon is stored in a bamboo ecosystem was required.
“There has been a high demand for such a methodology over the past few years, but we were the first to develop one,” Kuehl said.
Now that the new accounting methodology has been approved, companies in China that want to offset their carbon emissions can buy bamboo carbon credits on the voluntary market through the China Green Carbon Foundation.
The money they pay supports the planting of new bamboo forests in China.
“More than 10 Chinese companies have already pre-ordered 8,155 tonnes of carbon credits,” said Kuehl.
“So that shows the high demand that exists in China for bamboo carbon credits.”
In part that is because bamboo holds special significance in Asia, according to Professor Zhou Guomo, the president of one of INBAR’s partner organisations, the Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University.
“Bamboo supports local people as it can be used for a very wide range of products and services; and as such bamboo credits do not only serve as offsets, but also as community support.
“This combination is attractive to companies, as it can raise the companies’ environmental and social profile,” he said.
INBAR plans to keep developing and extending the technique through further research, and also hopes to share it with other tropical and subtropical countries.