'Fight climate with bamboo'
Cancún - World leaders pondering the conundrum of climate change should think of bamboo, a group promoting the versatile grass said at the UN talks in Cancún on Wednesday.
Cheap, fast-growing and immensely strong, bamboo provides an answer to surging carbon emissions, generates income for the rural poor and helps tackle housing shortages, the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (Inbar) said.
"Bamboo is a remarkable resource for driving economic development, and is readily available in many of the world's poorest countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America," said Coosje Hoogendoorn, Inbar's director general.
"It helps support the livelihoods of more than 1.5 billion people, generates more than $5bn in annual trade and can grow up to 1m a day."
"Bamboo housing has been around for centuries, but many people don't understand its full potential and still see it as the poor man's timber," said Alvaro Cabrera, Inbar's regional coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.
"In fact, bamboo is stronger for its weight than steel, it's cheaper than timber, uses far less energy in processing than concrete and can dance in earthquakes... Bamboo should be referred to as the wise man's timber."
Inbar, a 13-year-old organisation based in China, is an inter-government organisation, gathering 36 countries under a treaty, that also fosters fair-trade and development schemes involving bamboo and rattan.
It made its pitch on the sidelines of the November 29 - December 10 UN talks in Cancún, where countries are wrestling for solutions to climate change.
In addition to providing livelihoods for people, bamboo forests would be an invaluable weapon against carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, through photosynthesis, Inbar said.
Some species of bamboo can suck up CO2 at least as fast as Chinese fir and eucalyptus, among the swiftest-growing commercial species of trees, according to a scientific report presented in November.
In addition, bamboo roots reduce soil erosion, preventing hillsides and riverbanks from washing away in floods and landslides.
Hoogendoorn said that the group was working on a certification scheme whereby bamboo would be sold with a label proving that it came from a sustainable plantation and allowed other species to thrive.
Even so, certification "is complex and very difficult", she admitted.
One of the biggest destroyers of biodiversity is monoculture crops grown on huge spaces on soil treated with pesticides and fertilisers.
Natural bamboo forests, as opposed to plantations, are a haven for many species of wildlife, including the giant panda.
China, Indonesia and Vietnam are the three biggest sources of bamboo, Inbar said.