Tetepare Island Community Conservation Project: Protecting the Largest Uninhabited Island in the South Pacific

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Island nations no doubt have the most to lose in the face of climate change. They will bear the brunt of variable weather patterns and sea-level rise. Over 600 million people live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level, and two-thirds of the world’s cities that have populations over five million are located in these at-risk areas.

While facing these same threats and mounting pressures from foreign logging interests, Tetepare Island and its landowners in the Solomon Islands archipelago are also bringing forward a tangible global solution—a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) carbon project.

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Over a century ago, headhunting and a mysterious disease forced the people of Tetepare Island to leave their home and the 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) of blanketed tropical forest. The descendants of the original habitants now live throughout the Solomon Islands. As recognized landowners of Tetepare, the 3,000+ customary landowners have coalesced around the common goal of conserving their natural and cultural resources by forming a representative entity, the Tetepare Descendants’ Association (TDA).

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Tetepare is home to many vulnerable and endemic species that are of great environmental, social and financial value to TDA and the world. While this is just the beginning of our scientific understanding of the island, to date, researchers have documented 73 bird species, 3 species of turtles, including the critically endangered Pacific leatherback, 21 other reptiles, four frogs and 13 mammal species on the island. The reefs boast rich marine life with turtles and Dugongs swimming through the 1,100 hectare patrolled marine protected area.

Despite mounting pressure to exploit much of the rich ecology of the island, TDA is actively working to protect their uninhabited jewel in the insular tropical Pacific. The project currently involves an innovative Community Conservation Agreement (CCA). The CCA works with the landholding community (in this case the TDA) to offer community-wide benefits in exchange for carefully designed conservation outcomes.

Specifically, this CCA mandates the preservation of Tetepare’s forests and marine resources and is working example of applying customary land tenure to the process of verifying and marketing REDD carbon credits.

“Tetepare landowners committed [to TDA] because they saw the benefits of keeping their heritage intact, we also knew this would hold opportunities for the future,” TDA Program Coordinator, Allan Bero explained in Copenhagen at the climate change negotiations this past December. “And now, if we can access REDD markets, the descendants of Tetepare will realize the benefit of our commitment to conserve our homeland.”

Significant threat to the forests of Tetepare is an ongoing reality. Tetepare landowners are united to conserve their natural and cultural heritage. The government of the Solomon Islands has fully endorsed this project. The remaining hurdle to advancing this long-term funding initiative for Tetepare is the financial cost of certifying and commercializing these carbon credits.

The generated revenue from the sale of these REDD credits will help solidify the CCA through long-term funding of conservation activities with a focus on the continued delivery of community benefits for the life of the carbon contract. The structure of this community-based REDD project will help the Solomon Islands build its capacity to scale up carbon projects elsewhere; and the world will have another example of a needed solution in its fight against climate change—this time brought forward by an unlikely group of “wantok” living in the middle of the South Pacific.

For additional information, please contact Keyvan Izadi (siccp.ki@gmail.com).

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