Money really does grow on trees

Clunes filmmaker Cathy Henkel on location in Borneo with an orangutan while filming her new feature documentary, The Burning Season. Cathys 15-year-old daughter Samlara Henkel who has been invited to the UN Climate Change Conference to report on it for the NSW Department of Education.

This is a cliffhanger moment for us, for the film and for the planet, said Clunes filmmaker Cathy Henkel just 24 hours before boarding a plane to Bali to film the UN Climate Change Conference.

The meeting of world leaders will form an integral part of Cathys 90-minute documentary, The Burning Season, which follows one man on a mission to shape the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol and change the course of history.

For the last 12 months Cathy and her partner Jeff Canin have been filming Tibetan/Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun, who has devised a carbon trading scheme that could save Indonesias tropical rainforests and bring the orangutan back from the brink of extinction.

Every year in Indonesia vast tracts of rainforest are logged and burned to make way for palm oil production, a practice which generates massive amounts of greenhouse pollution and kills 4000 orangutans each year. If left unchecked, these endangered animals will be extinct within a decade.

But Dorjee has a solution.

He convinced three Indonesian governors to halt the logging of thousands of hectares of rainforest, earning them income from the sale of carbon credits to large companies in the US, Europe and Asia that want to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

The concept is called avoided deforestation and Dorjee is now on his way to Bali, with Cathy and her film crew in tow, to lobby for it to be included in the next round of Kyoto. The next round will take effect in 2012.

When we start getting mandatory emission limits, companies who are not able to reach those targets can offset their carbon emissions by buying into a fund that will prevent the logging of these rainforests, Cathy said. This deal is ground-breaking... given that 20 per cent of global emissions come from the burning and logging of forests, this concept has huge potential if adopted globally. It means big emitting companies can become active players in protecting rainforest all over the world.

Australias largest carbon trading deal to date was made last year when Lismore company The Carbon Pool sold around one million tonnes of carbon credits to Rio Tinto Aluminium. The deal saved more than 12,000 hectares of native forest in Queensland, and managing director Mark Jackson has now merged his business with Dorjees company, Carbon Conservation.

Avoided deforestation is attractive for developing countries because theyre getting paid large sums of money through international carbon markets to protect and expand their forests, said Mark. In a world ruled by economy, this is the best chance we have to save our jungles and the species, such as rhinos and tigers, who inhabit them. Its also helping to alleviate poverty in some of the poorest nations on earth.

Whilst in Bali, Cathy will also have the opportunity to film Australias new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, as he makes his first major appearance on the world stage. She describes his intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as historic.

Saturdays election was a win for the planet not just a win for Australia, said Cathy. Australia signing Kyoto is a very important gesture in terms of leaving the US completely isolated as the only country that hasnt signed up. It gives us an opportunity to truly take a lead in Asia and in the world to tackle climate change. Without signing it were irrelevant in the debate.

Cathy said attending the UN Climate Change Conference was a once-in-a-lifetime gig.

For me this is an opportunity to be at the epicentre of one of the biggest meetings on the planet a meeting that will decide the future of our planet, said Cathy. Im nervous that this might be a missed opportunity and that will set the carbon trading scheme back 10 years and we just dont have that much time. Climate change scientists tell us humans dont have that much time and we know that the orangutans definitely dont. If we wait any longer the orangutans and the forests will be lost forever.

The Burning Season will be completed in April 2007 and broadcast on ABC later in the year. The film has also been purchased by the BBC and CBC (Canada) and will be distributed worldwide by National Geographic. A cinema release is also being considered.

The making of The Burning Season has not all been smooth sailing for Cathy and Jeff as it has taken 10 months to get finance. Believing so strongly in the urgency of the film, they decided to take a chance and use their own resources to keep filming. This involved two trips to Indonesia and one around the USA. At one point, in late August, it looked like they were unable to keep going. However, after seeing some footage from the film, local angels Christopher and Lynda Dean came to their rescue. Their support kept the production afloat until the film was fully financed in late November.

Cathy and Jeffs 15-year-old daughter Samlara, who has been active in the climate debate for over 12 months and even addressed Lismore Council last year about her concerns, has been invited by the NSW Education Department to host a live webcast that will be streamed to several NSW schools, including Kadina High, during the first week of the conference. Samlaras reports will then be made available next year as a download to all NSW schools as an educational resource.

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