Rainforests in the Dominican Republic give it a chance to fight against hurricanes and climate change
After Hurricane Fiona hit the island of Puerto Rico, it hit the Dominican Republic, as this reporter was visiting the rainforest. It was the first cyclone to hit the island in 16 years – an event that underscores the omnipotence of climate change and the vital role rainforests play in combating it.
The Dominican Republic is a party to the Paris Climate Agreement, which allows observers to ensure the sanctity of rainforests. They absorb carbon, allowing credits to be issued that make it easier for companies and countries to meet net-zero requirements. The island will soon be eligible to sell credits equivalent to 25 million tons, which could raise at least $125 million in 2023 to shape the ecotourism industry while preserving biodiversity and water resources.
“The money will go to creating more forests that will capture more carbon and build water resources,” Federico Franco, Deputy Minister for Protected Areas and Biodiversity, says in an interview with this writer in his Santo Domingo office. “This will change the financial metrics that come from agriculture and timber.”
Franco adds that the Dominican Republic is responsible for 0.008% of global warming. But it is one of the 10 countries most affected by climate change in the world. For example, high tide erodes its beaches. At the same time, sargassum – unsightly seaweed – overwhelms the shores of the Caribbean: it’s the result of rising waters, causing chemicals to bleed into the ocean and killing biodiversity.
The beaches of the island occupy 1,500 square kilometers of coastline. But its 18,000 square kilometer rainforests make up 43% of the country today – up from 11% between 1960 and 1980. The government aims to expand the forests to 67% of the country. National law protects 25% of the existing forests. Between 2000 and 2018, the island averaged 2.4 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. But its rainforests absorb an average of 2.8 million tons annually.
Consider the La Celestina project for sustainable forest management in the province of Santiago: developed by the Dominican Republic during the 1980s, as a model for solving climate-related issues while increasing economic activity. Where this reporter visited. The land is managed by the San Ramon Forest Society and is part of the REDD+ program that rewards a country for stewardship and control of its forests.
Sustainable management of forests in this region is essential, especially for water capture and storage. Since the Caribbean islands do not have glaciers or snow-capped peaks to hold water, they rely exclusively on their mountain forests. They pick up water from clouds when they hit the mountains and moisture that thickens at night. On the other hand, these forests are used for timber and create jobs and income. Furniture companies, construction companies, and hardware stores buy the resulting lumber.
Nothing is lost:
Sawdust fills the pits affected by heavy rain.
The phloem becomes a raw material for energy or biomass, and
Branches are used to replenish organic matter to prevent soil erosion in harvested areas.
“A truly sustainable management of this forest provides economic income for local communities, raw materials for businesses in the area, and water for all the cities that benefit from the basin,” says César Abril, the biologist who led this writer on the rainforest adventure. . It is worth noting that the forests have been renovated.
But the permanent trees will capture carbon and reduce carbon dioxide emissions — and generate money under REDD+ and create new jobs, a program the Rainforest Nations Alliance established with Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea in 2005.
At La Celestina’s Sustainable Forest Management project, mountain cabins dot the campus – those that allow campers to walk the trails. They coexist peacefully with wood. Trees selected for commercial use are crooked and where the density is higher. The process is transparent, while a system of checks and balances prevents violations and ensures that living trees have healthy soil, generate water supplies, and capture carbon dioxide.
While tourism is an important industry in the Dominican Republic – think beach resorts – the timber sector is a key component of the economy. For example, men cut trees and turn them into wood for trade. La Celestina does not finish wood because every buyer has their own distinct needs. In 2018, the timber industry grew by 12% and added 10% to the country’s GDP. Most importantly, the forests are managed, and commercial use is partitioned and closely monitored.
But the “weevil” threatens the trees – a threat exacerbated by drought and climate change. However, landowners keep a close eye on these predatory insects.
“We are an island. Without a forest, we have no water,” Jose Elias Gonzalez, Deputy Minister of Forest Resources, says in an interview with this writer in his office. “We protect our forests. Trees not only absorb carbon but maintain our water supply. Trees preserve our biodiversity and create a broader economy to produce new business. We can train and educate people and protect our economy and our forests while bringing more benefits.”
Living outside tourism
Rainforest nations have made a lot of efforts to slow the rate of deforestation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If the trees live, they will continue to do so. It’s nature’s solution and cheapest remedy to combat climate change – even more affordable than renewables.
Since 2009, the developed world has promised funding to ensure that timber and agriculture do not usurp trees. It may come soon – a welcome development because low-lying countries contribute a fraction of the world’s carbon dioxide.
For example, the Caribbean islands spend their resources on climate mitigation and cleaning sargassums from beaches. Giant crews collect sand before placing the organism in bags and boxes. It’s expensive, and the money could instead go to hospitals and education.
Step into Forest Conservation: To get the money promised under REDD+, the state must take an inventory of its trees and establish a national forest inventory. Using that, he can calculate the country’s carbon stock – the amount of carbon dioxide that forests absorb annually. The government must report its emissions and what its trees absorb if it wants to sell carbon credits. The process must be transparent and verifiable, identifying the root causes of deforestation and forest degradation.
Its forest sector captures about 350,000 tons more than the country’s total annual emissions. Next year, it expects to sell 25 million tons of carbon credits at $5 per ton. Among the country’s major employers are KPMG, Scotiabank, Verizon, and Philip Morris International
Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic is part of the Cancun Agreement that respects not only conservation, water resources and biodiversity, but also the people who live and work in nature and forest owners.
“The Ministry of Environment is not trying to stop development,” Milagros de Camps, deputy minister for climate change and sustainability, tells this reporter in her office. We are only trying to protect natural resources. We live on tourism. We need to protect our natural resources. It has benefits for our ecosystem. We are raising public awareness and setting a price for our natural capital – forests – which will increase GDP.
She continues, “We are working to educate our citizens about how the environment can provide a better quality of life. But in a developing country, people are more concerned with health and education. While climate change is not one of our main concerns, people see its side effects: the destruction of Fiona, the amount of Sargassum.” on beaches, and the level of beach erosion that’s going on.”
The Dominican Republic values its rainforests and aims to expand its presence to combat climate change and boost prosperity. A business like timber is well planned. In the long run, more trees mean an abundant water supply and the ability to capture more carbon, providing credit and money to fix rampant problems and build ecotourism centers. The rainforest is a national treasure – an economic magnet that enables the island.
Editor’s note: This story is the first in a two-part series on the island of the Dominican Republic. The second, which will appear next week, looks at the island’s switch to renewable energies – to help it comply with the Paris climate agreement.
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