This time, the forest product for sale is 100 percent sustainable and guaranteed to return on the investment. The product is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that healthy forests can store in vast reserves and prevent from being released into the atmosphere. Put simply, protecting an intact forest keeps its store of carbon from heating the planet.

In a landmark agreement, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the government of Madagascar announced the sale of more than nine million tons of carbon offsets to help safeguard this African nation’s wildlife-rich Makira Forest. Proceeds from sales will also contribute to the economic wellbeing of people living around Makira and help fight global climate change.

The carbon offsets will be marketed and sold by the Madagascar government in private transactions with the aid of the Makira Carbon Company (MCC) established by WCS. MCC will work in collaboration with Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment, Water, Forests, and Tourism. Sales will target principals, brokers, dealers, and other intermediaries in the U.S. and abroad who wish to purchase high-quality emissions reductions delivering multiple benefits to both the environment and economy.

Makira Forest spans more than 1,500 square miles, making it one of the largest remaining intact blocks of rainforest in Madagascar. It contains 22 species of lemurs, hundreds of bird species, and thousands of plant varieties, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. It also provides a critical forest “corridor” allowing wildlife to travel between adjoining protected areas and outlying forest blocks. About 50 percent of Madagascar’s unique biodiversity—and one percent of the world’s biodiversity—exist within the greater Makira landscape. The forest also supplies clean water to approximately 300,000 people who live around it.

“WCS is honored to be working with the government of Madagascar in creating this new model for conserving its greatest forest,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, WCS president and CEO. “The government continues to show global leadership in conservation, climate change, and concern for its people.”

Protection of intact forests is a key mechanism for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Scientists estimate that 20 percent of annual carbon emissions—more than the entire U.S. generates each year—are caused by destruction of forests, especially in tropical areas. Brazil and Indonesia are the third and fourth largest emitters of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China, due almost entirely to deforestation. In Madagascar, 386 square miles of forest are lost each year due to burning for agricultural land.

The announcement of the sale of Makira carbon is particularly timely in the wake of the recently unsuccessful efforts to pass cap-and-trade carbon legislation in Congress. WCS is calling on Congress to make sure that forest protection is a central component of any future legislation to limit carbon emissions.

WCS has been carrying out conservation activities in Madagascar since the early 1990s and has worked in Makira since 2003. In close collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water, Forests and Tourism and local organizations, WCS is helping to establish a new permanent protected area that encompasses the Makira Forest. Sale of Makira carbon offsets by the government will provide an important source of sustainable financing for achieving that goal.

To highlight the wildlife and habitats of this stunning African island nation, WCS will open Madagascar! at its Bronx Zoo headquarters on June 19. The exhibit features four types of lemurs, Nile crocodiles, radiated tortoises, and more. To create the exhibit, the zoo renovated the landmark Lion House and transformed it into a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient green building. It is anticipated to be the first landmark building in New York to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification.