Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009

Dorjee Sun

If scientists could tap whatever source of energy it is that powers Dorjee Sun, we wouldn't have a climate crisis. Chinese Tibetan by parentage — but 100% Australian by birth and accent — the 32-year-old Sun has been on the go since he graduated from the University of New South Wales less than a decade ago. He founded an Internet company for corporate recruitment, a remote-tutoring firm and a creative-media agency. He made his first million before the age of 30 — but it wasn't until he launched Carbon Conservation, which brokers rain-forest-carbon-credit deals, that he became truly busy. "I'm just wired nonstop," Sun says, speaking from Singapore, one of several cities he calls home.

Carbon Conservation grew out of Sun's concern for the millions of hectares of rain forest destroyed each year in Indonesia. He knew that nonprofits alone weren't going to stop tropical deforestation, which contributes as much as a quarter of the world's carbon emissions. Deforestation would only end when it becomes more profitable to keep forests than to turn them into logs or farms. "I love NGOs, but I don't think they're the people alone who can change the world," says Sun. "You have to make it a business."

Building Carbon Conservation wasn't easy — the Kyoto Protocol doesn't yet recognize avoided deforestation and Sun literally had to force himself into a U.N. conference in early 2007 to put his business on the map. But the Australian has quickly emerged as a go-to person for avoided-deforestation projects in Southeast Asia. In April 2008 he brokered the world's first commercial avoided-deforestation project, in the war-torn Indonesian province of Aceh, with investment bank Merrill Lynch paying to protect 1.9 million acres (770,000 hectares) of pristine jungle in exchange for the value of the carbon locked inside the trees, carbon that can later be sold on the emerging international market. That same year he helped bring the governor of Aceh to California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the first state-to-state agreement on reducing deforestation. Throughout, Sun was followed by cameras for a documentary, The Burning Season, which premiered this April at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival. "It's been cool," he says.

But ensuring that the forest — and its carbon — stays safe has taken a lot more work then Sun expected. He and his partners have hired former rebels from Aceh's civil war to patrol the forest for illegal loggers. Even Sun's energy levels have been tested. "I'm an optimist, but this can be like fighting to hold back the tide," he says. "Still, I'm going to do this 
 full time, 1,000%." It will take nothing less.

'Go vego once a week! Meatless Mondays! Imagine if the world reduced its environmental footprint by changing our diets one person at a time.' — Dorjee Sun