Under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), carbon offset schemes are limited to afforestation and reforestation. Heavily forested countries like Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, DR Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, which all together contain 80% of the world’s remaining tropical forests, formed the Forestry Eight to challenge the failure to extend CDM financing to the preservation of old-growth forests is unjust.

Nevertheless, in Nigeria, credits can therefore be earned by communities for planting new trees and conserving existing ones. The federal government can set the pace by incorporating this into the proposed new policy on forest management, and supporting farmers’ cooperatives, or even micro-finance banks to take the lead and arrange to certify a community’s carbon sequestration efforts through tree planting and conservation, apply for carbon payments on their behalf, and distribute funds back to farmers.

Making the proposed new policy on forest management to incorporate this thinking should be a priority. This has become vital as efforts are exerted to draft the forestry bill by the relevant authorities for onward submission to the National Assembly.

The bill should mainstream payments for local communities conserving forests or planting new trees. This policy initiative and the bold proposals by the federal government to fully embark on a one billion tree planting project in order to check the effects of erosion, desertification and climate change is timely.

Under the proposed forest policy, state governments as custodians of forest reserves, and the civil societies, individuals and the private sector are to be encouraged to get involved in the forest plantations in all the ecological zones in the country. The policy also seeks to compel the oil companies to establish forest plantation in the remediated oil spill sites for recovery of lost land. The trees would be required to mitigate the consequences of climate change, deforestation and land degradation.

The prevailing menace of erosion in Anambra and other parts of the South-Eastern states of Imo, Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu should be given priority in the new proposal. The urgency in this is derivable from the fact that lives and properties worth billions of naira have been ruined as a result.

The realization that some parts of these states are also in the Niger Delta where environmental degradation is at its apogee makes urgency in this regard a life and death issue.

In considering South-Eastern states, other communities in Northern Nigeria where desertification is already a huge challenge deserve attention, in like measure as communities in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

This is against the glaring background that gas flaring as a component of climate change is already a huge challenge in that region. Ranked seventh in the world’s gas production capacity, Nigeria is said to have the highest gas reserve in Africa. However, it loses an estimated $2.5 billion annually to gas flaring, emitting about 2.5 billion standard cubic meters of carbon dioxide to the living environment.

Gas flaring in Nigeria currently accounts for 20 per cent of the world total. Nigeria flares more gas than any other country in the world. Approximately 75 per cent of total gas production in Nigeria is flared, and about 95 per cent of the “associated gas” which is produced as a by-product of crude oil extraction from reservoirs in which oil and gas are mixed.

Flaring in Nigeria contributes a measurable percentage of the world’s total emissions of greenhouse gases; due to the low efficiency of many of the flares much of the gas is released as methane (which has a high warming potential), rather than carbon dioxide. At the same time, the low-lying Niger Delta is particularly vulnerable to the potential effects of sea levels rising. The high rainfall in southern Nigeria in the rainy season leads to regular inundation of the low, poorly drained terrain of the Niger Delta, and an ecosystem characterized by the ebb and flow of water.

Over the last few decades, however, the building of dams along the Niger and Benue Rivers and their tributaries has significantly reduced sedimentation and seasonal flooding in the delta.

Coupled with riverbank and coastal erosion, it is estimated that, if it continued at a constant rate, the result of diminished siltation in the delta would be the loss of about 40 per cent of the inhabited land in the delta within thirty years.

At the same time, since the construction of the dams, large numbers of people have settled in areas previously subject to extensive flooding; yet the progressive silting of the dams themselves, due to lack of maintenance, has meant that floods have begun to return to pre-dam levels, periodically inundating newly inhabited and cultivated areas.

Forests play a vital role in people’s lives through the provision of medicine, food, energy, income and acting as a safety net during droughts. Forests are also a source of environmental services such as providing clean water. At the household level, the forests supply timber for construction, firewood, fruits, and medicines. Some 20 to 35 percent of household income derives from forests and other environmental resources.

Poor forest management policies, including unrestricted logging, excessive harvesting of firewood and road construction contribute deforestation and consequently its failure to mitigate climate change. The world is said to be losing about 200km2 of forest a day, according to FAO, with forests in Africa being felled at twice the global average.

Forests are also crucial for safeguarding other ecosystems- they regulate water cycles, protect biodiversity and provide physical buffers against desertification, drought, land degradation and flash floods. The ripple effect could be incalculable.

Most importantly now that we are suffering the effects of climate change, forests have huge potential for offsetting it. Trees have the capacity to trap vast amounts of carbon which would otherwise escape into the atmosphere as CO2, one of the worst Green House Gas (GHG) offenders. A growing awareness of the role of forests in protecting against climate change has sparked a number of tree planting initiatives.

Forests play a very important role for they absorb and conserve carbon or CO2, the main gas responsible for the greenhouse effect and hence climate change. The Clean Development Mechanism Which was set up as part of the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gases offers incentives for reforestation in countries of the South. These latter are offered carbon credits in exchange.

It has been argued severally that African countries stand to gain billions of dollars through participating in the carbon market. Carbon market or carbon trading is a system whereby companies in developed countries or high energy consuming multi-nationals such as the oil companies in Nigeria are obligated to help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by promoting the development of carbon reducing methods like tree planting.

In 2008, the United Nations launched a program that could be the foundation for a system in which rich countries would pay poor ones to slow climate change by protecting and planting forests. The new program, called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD) will assist nine developing countries, including Bolivia, Indonesia and Zambia, in establishing systems to monitor, assess and report forest cover. “Forests are worth more alive than dead … and their ecosystem services and benefits are worth billions if not trillions of dollars if only we capture these in economic models,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme.

However, providing incentives to conserve the forests that we already have could be just as important as planting or cultivating new trees. Carbon payments or credits can be an effective stimulus in reducing forest degradation, as they offer local communities a chance to help cut global carbon emissions, while increasing prospects for their own livelihoods.