NUS to lead S$15 million research project to improve the credibility of nature-based carbon projects in Southeast Asia
A new S$15 million research project that will support the establishment and monitoring of high-quality nature-based carbon projects across Southeast Asia was launched today at the United Nations 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), the annual climate summit taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this year.
With an initial S$10 million funding coming from Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) and S$5 million co-funding from the National University of Singapore (NUS), the five-year research effort, called the Carbon Market Integrity Research and Development Programme Singapore, or Carbon Integrity SG, will be led by the Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions (CNCS), a research centre under the NUS Faculty of Science.
The new programme will build on earlier research done at CNCS, which leverages satellite data and existing datasets to map out where nature-based projects in Southeast Asia can be developed as potential sources of high-quality carbon credits. The Carbon Prospecting Dashboard, launched in September 2022, also enables users to calculate the estimated yield of carbon credits and their financial return-on-investment, based on user-defined assumptions such as project duration, costs and carbon prices.
Carbon Integrity SG will see CNCS researchers working with partners – including other universities, government agencies, and corporations – to establish monitoring plots at various natural habitats across the region. Tools such as Light Detection and Ranging technology (LIDAR) will be used to help generate precise, three-dimensional information about the habitats. LIDAR data, as well as other measurements like the girths of trees, will allow scientists to estimate and map the biomass carbon stocks across various forest ecosystems in the region, helping to improve estimates on carbon yield on the dashboard.
Access to the sites will also allow researchers to develop new methods for calculating carbon storage potential for specific ecosystems, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all approach. Currently, most estimates on natural carbon storage by forests are made using global or pantropical models. Carbon Integrity SG will help to establish region-specific carbon estimation models for various tropical habitats, including rainforests, mangroves, freshwater swamp forests, peatlands, and deciduous forests.
Ensuring the credibility and integrity of nature-based carbon projects
In the Asia Pacific region, 58% of forests are under threat and could currently be protected as economically viable forest carbon projects. CNCS research shows that the Asia Pacific region has the highest concentration of the most profitable carbon projects, which can generate returns on investment at close to US$25 billion per year. These carbon projects would not only avoid 835 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year from deforestation, which is almost half the emissions of Indonesia in 2018, but also provide other co-benefits. Protecting these forests as nature-based carbon projects could help with water purification services, safeguard food security and biodiversity conservation.
However, there are concerns about the credibility and integrity of nature-based carbon projects in the market today. Uncertainty over the amount of carbon stored in a natural habitat can also be a deterrent to project developers and investors. To ensure high-quality nature-based carbon projects, research needs to provide the evidence base for informing policy and investment decisions.
Carbon Integrity SG will develop and improve internationally-recognised standards and methodologies to ensure the credibility and integrity of the global carbon marketplace; and help to ensure a stable supply of high-quality, nature-based carbon offset credits from the Southeast Asian region to meet global market demands. The CNCS-led effort will contribute to the realisation of Singapore’s ambition to be a global hub for climate-related services.
In the Philippines, CNCS is partnering with renewable energy company Energy Development Corporation (EDC) to monitor the forests at its geothermal sites that enable the latter to sequester carbon emissions each year.
“CNCS looks forward to working with partners across the region on Carbon Integrity SG. By tapping Southeast Asian expertise in forestry, geospatial technology and other sectors, we can tailor global models to our unique context. The collaborations will help to improve the credibility of nature-based carbon projects in Southeast Asia, which is home to many natural ecosystems including rainforests, peat swamps and mangroves. Carbon Integrity SG’s work will give investors greater confidence in the quality of nature-based carbon projects, helping to promote the conservation of these important habitats,” said Professor Koh Lian Pin, Director of NUS CNCS.
“Carbon Integrity SG will enable high environmental integrity for nature-based carbon projects, by ensuring that credits generated from these projects represent real and additional emissions reduction. Given the large potential for nature-based abatement in the region, this initiative can play an important role to accelerate climate action in the region,” said Mr Benedict Chia, Director General for Climate Change at the National Climate Change Secretariat.
“EDC strongly believes in the urgency of tackling the climate crisis by primarily conserving nature to help the world get to net-zero by 2050. By partnering with NUS CNCS to establish a forest monitoring plot at our geothermal facility in Southern Negros in the Visayas region, we hope to be able to contribute to research that will aid in preserving Southeast Asia’s forests,’ said Atty. Allan V. Barcena, Assistant Vice President and Head of Corporate Relations and Communications at EDC.