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Battling Climate Change by Restoring Land Contaminated by Chernobyl

Battling Climate Change by Restoring Land Contaminated by Chernobyl

An NGO is developing an emissions reduction project in Belarus that will restore peatland contaminated by fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

APB Birdlife Belarus is tapping the carbon markets to find at least €2.6 million ($3.6 million) for a project that will re-wet peatland that was drained as part of a Soviet-era programme to boost agricultural production. The 10,000-hectare tract of land in the south-east of the country borders the Ukraine and is near the site of the nuclear reactor which exploded in 1986, scattering radioactive material.

The NGO says re-wetting the peatland will restore habitats for fauna and flora and generate about 320,000 carbon credits over a 20-year period, if the project is validated under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Restoring the peatland also prevents surface water run-off after heavy rains – one of the main ways that radionuclides are swept into rivers and lakes.

Viktar Fenchuk, Minsk-based director of APB Birdlife Belarus, told Environmental Finance that about half of Belarus’ peatlands have been drained for agriculture or forestry, or dug up for use as fuel. In total, about 1.4 million hectares have lost their natural state.

APB is developing peatland restoration projects with the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Germany’s Michael Succow Foundation, with financial backing from German development bank KfW. But rather than relying on the “limited” grants available for peatland projects, Fenchuk said the partners decided to try and tap carbon finance as a sustainable source of income.

Drained peatlands make a huge contribution to climate change, he said. Re-wetting peat land stops the release of carbon dioxide and methane caused by peat degradation, and makes peat fires unlikely. Furthermore, carbon is continually accumulated as vegetation grows back and is locked into the peat. This means restoration of peatland is more beneficial for the climate than most reforestation projects. “In the conditions of Belarus [boreal forests], peatland contains eight times more carbon than forests,” Fenchuk said.

The partners have developed one project ready for sale, and have ideas for three other projects, including the one near Chernobyl. A methodology is currently being validated under the VCS.

Fenchuk said the leading project, the Belarus Peatland Restoration Project, has attracted the interest of a German transportation company which is considering investing to obtain the carbon credits for its offset programme. This project covers 14,000 hectares – nine sites which are already being re-wetted with finance from KfW, and five new sites that will be re-wetted from 2012 – and is set to generate about 1 million carbon credits over a 20-year period.

By next month, the partners aim to have in place a carbon credit purchase agreement and a project design document, to go alongside the already agreed memorandum of understanding with the Belarus government. The latter gives a company based in Minsk, the Centre for Sustainable Peatland Management, ownership of the carbon credits and management rights on the re-wetted areas.

The Belarus government has welcomed the proposed projects, said Alexander Rachevsky, head of the department of international cooperation in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.

“We have huge plans for the restoration of these territories that are rich in biodiversity,” he said.

Belarus remains committed to achieving its greenhouse gas emission reduction pledge of 8% below 1990 levels during the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period of 2008-12, Rachevsky noted.

However, he said the country can only rely on the voluntary carbon market to finance these projects because it has not been officially accepted into ‘Annex B’ of the protocol and so cannot host Joint Implementation projects or Green Investment Schemes linked to international carbon credits.

By. Christopher Cundy

Source: Environmental-Finance




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