Every year deliberately lit fires rage across Indonesia. They destroy pristine rainforest, endanger orangutans and contribute to climate change. A young carbon trading entrepreneur goes in search of a solution.
After starting this campaign at 29 years of age, Australian Dorjee Sun, now 32, is one of his nation’s young achievers. Right after graduating from his double degree in law and business, he made a fortune developing websites for social networking and legal industry recruitment. Since then, his boyish charisma has impressed powerbrokers from Davos to DC. But Dorjee isn’t simply another slick entrepreneur: rather than sinking his funds into the next moneyspinning investment, he’s putting his cash and his reputation on the line in an effort to save the planet.
Through his business relationship with Steve and Terri Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors, Dorjee learned that many of Indonesia’s unique endangered species - particularly the orangutans - are on the brink of extinction. Indonesia is tagged ‘world’s worst’ in forest clearing, chopping down and burning 300 football fields’worth of rainforest every hour. Disturbingly, new studies show that the devastation of Indonesia’s forests has made it the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide – exceeded only by the USA and China. As the world wakes up to the severity of climate change, the need for real solutions has never been more urgent.
Using expertise gained during the dot-com boom, Dorjee set up a fledgling carbon trading company, Carbon Conservation, and developed a scheme based on ‘avoided deforestation’. His plan is that farmers and companies should be paid to protect the forests instead of clearing them to plant cash crops. The funding comes from trading the carbon stored in the forests on an international exchange, like stocks or shares.
Dorjee explains, “When forests are degraded and trees are cut down, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. ‘Avoided deforestation’ is the concept in which countries are paid to prevent deforestation that would otherwise occur. Funds come from industrialized countries seeking to meet emissions commitments under international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol. “Policymakers and environmentalists alike find the idea attractive because it could help fight climate change at a low cost while improving living standards for some of the world's poorest people”.
However, considerable scepticism surrounds carbon trading: is it a real solution, or just another way of commodifying and exploiting the environment? Ecologists and social justice organizations remain wary of the dubious virtues of a conservation scheme that seems to have come directly from Wall Street.
To raise the carbon finance, Dorjee travelled from his home in Sydney to the jungles of Sumatra and Papua, gaining the trust and support of the local political leaders. The Indonesian Governors of Aceh, Papua and West Papua signed an agreement giving Dorjee the exclusive right to trade the carbon credits represented by their vast forests.
Journeying onward to the USA and UK, Dorjee pitched his scheme to big business, banks, investment funds and anyone who would listen, His goal: a $100 million forest protection fund, to be supported by investment powerhouses, respected institutions, and political superstars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. His assets are a reputation as a savvy young millionaire, one prior success in the industry, and a network of powerful friends, including environmentalists, politicians and Wildlife Warrior, Terri Irwin. After 205 rejections, and a week out from his self-imposed deadline, Dorjee found an investor willing to partner with him and the Governor of Aceh on their Aceh Green initiative.
A major hurdle in the process was the exclusion of avoided deforestation from the Kyoto Protocol. Dorjee attended the climate change conference in Bali to push the case for including forests in the roadmap for a new protocol to commence in 2012. The stakes were high at the UN conference and there was much riding on the ability of world leaders to reach consensus – for Dorjee, the forests, and the planet.
After the Bali conference, Merrill Lynch signed the world's first avoided deforestation deal with Dorjee’s company, Carbon Conservation. The proposal will save the 1.9 million-acre Ulu Masen forest in Aceh province, thereby protecting the endangered ecosystems and their inhabitants. The deal has been widely applauded for its innovative qualities and contribution to forest protection.
In November 2008 Dorjee achieved another of his goals. He brought Governor Irwandi of Aceh to California to meet Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to reduce forestry-related greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement is the first state-to-state sub-national agreement of its kind in the world and will help bring global attention to the urgency of saving Indonesia's forests.
Dorjee has since won Environmental Finance's "Carbon Finance Deal of the Year" award and in April 2009 was honored by the African Rainforest Conservancy for his work. They also named a newly discovered species of chameleon from Tanzania after him.
In May 2009, Dorjee was named as one of 10 young leaders who have demonstrated the ability to come up with fresh ideas, directions and solutions in the Weekend Australian Magazine's Next 100.