A Look Inside: Microsoft’s Impact on Biodiversity through Offset Investments

| Josh Henretig

Last fall we shared details of our carbon offset strategy here on the Microsoft Green Blog, giving you some insight into the programs and projects underway as a direct result of our internal carbon fee and Microsoft’s commitment to carbon neutrality. As we noted then, we’ve chosen to invest in carbon offsets because, in addition to helping us achieve global emissions reductions, our carbon offset strategy also helps us deliver the added economic, societal and educational benefits that Microsoft is already committed to providing around the world.

Today we want to take you a bit deeper into two of our current projects and show the local impact, from ecosystem conservation to community development, these efforts are making. Below, we dive into the jungles of Madagascar and the wilds of Indonesia for a more in-depth look.

Project Makira: Madagascar

1When you think of Madagascar, the first thing that may come to mind is the 2005 animated movie featuring the voices of Chris Rock and Ben Stiller as cartoon lemurs. You also may know of Madagascar as a cultural melting pot influenced by both Africa and Southeast Asia.

When we look at Madagascar from a carbon offset investment perspective, we see one of the top five biodiversity hotspots in the world that over the course of the past 20 years has seen an unsustainable use of resources and forest loss. Deforestation in Madagascar is estimated at 1,500 hectares per year from 1995 to 2005 alone. Rapid population growth, low agricultural productivity, poverty and other factors have led to slash-and-burn agriculture, clearing for pastures and small-scale illegal logging and mining.

Through our partnership with The CarbonNeutral Company and the project developer Wildlife Conservation Society we are supporting the Makira Project as it works to limit deforestation while also improving the local communities around the forest. The project works in close collaboration with a ‘protection zone’ of 320,000 hectares (1,235 sq. miles) that makes up 120 villages and more than 50,000 people. It is estimated that successful implementation of the project will decrease the deforestation rate to under 100 hectares annually while also aiding and educating the local populations on more sustainable practices.

The local economy in this area is almost entirely based on agriculture, primarily from rice and other cash crops. This project is enabling households to adopt alternative techniques that replace destructive and unsustainable methods. These activities include adopting a System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which increases yields and is based mainly on improving water management. Other improved farming techniques include enhancing soil fertility through composting and improved crop rotation practices.

The benefits that come along with improved agricultural practices reduce deforestation and degradation which helps protect vital plant and animal species while also significantly reducing carbon emissions. Located in a carbon-dense, tropical forest, the project is estimated to generate 1.3 million tonnes (or metric tons) of carbon emission reductions annually and more than 38 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions in its 30-year crediting period.

3In addition to emission reductions, protection of the forest is essential to ensuring various populations of local species are able to survive. The Makira REDD+ project provides conservation of Madagascar’s only large predator, the cat-like fossa, protects the habitat and viability of crucial species of flora and fauna and protects the homes of 20 lemur species, likely to be the greatest diversity of lemurs in a single area.

Project Rimba Raya: Indonesia

On the other side of the Indian Ocean in Indonesia, we are working with project developer InfiniteEARTH to support another community development and biodiversity conservation project that will help support the protection of the endangered Borneo Orangutan.

The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve in Indonesia, located on the island of Borneo, is a project that preserves carbon-dense tropical peat swamp by helping halt deforestation of roughly 47,000 hectares (181 sq. miles) of forest originally destined to become palm oil plantations. Deforestation in this part of the world has more than doubled over the last decade as palm oil is increasingly popular in the commercial food industry, and it is estimated that 85 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from Indonesia are a result of deforestation and peat fires. With nearly 85 percent of all palm oil production coming from Indonesia and Malaysia – and the industry expected to double by 2020 – deforestation releases carbon emissions, while also destroying habitat of endangered species, contributing to soil erosion and increasing pollution to water ways.

The Borneo orangutan is one of the most impacted species in this area as 10 percent of the global population lives in these forests, making the Rimba Raya project crucial in helping protect the species. With more than 80 percent of the orangutan’s habitat throughout Asia destroyed largely through deforestation, there are only 55,000 orangutans left in the wild. Project Rimba Raya is the largest donor to date to The Orangutan Foundation International, which rescues orangutans orphaned by deforestation, rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild.

In addition to wildlife and biodiversity conservation efforts, this project actively engages local communities to improve food security, income opportunities, health care and education for the nearly 11,000 people who live in the area, making up 14 different villages. All of these activities are planned with the communities in order to ensure they prioritize the areas of greatest importance, with the project supplying the resources and training to deliver the required support.

As we shared last fall, Microsoft’s carbon offset investment portfolio includes 21 projects around the world that are funded through our internal carbon fee with the goal of driving a lower carbon future while also making a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of people around the world. Both the Makira and Rimba Raya projects are examples of the biodiversity projects we’ve chosen, as they provide protection of vital plant and animal species while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Partnerships play a large role in the success of these projects and the support of groups like The CarbonNeutral Company are essential to ensuring these projects are funded and in place.

Over the course of the year we will continue telling the stories of our investments here on the Microsoft Green Blog to help you better understand the positive and critical role of carbon offset investments and how companies can leverage opportunities around the world to impact meaningful change.

(Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS)

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