Reporting from Copenhagen
A much-touted UN forestry scheme aimed at ending deforestation and radically slowing global warming is close to getting approval at the 193-nation UN climate talks, but without any long-term financial commitments to pay for it.
Without money guaranteed from wealthy states, poor nations won’t accept targets to end forest loss, making the plan hot air, forest advocates are warning.
“Developing countries need to know that enough money is forthcoming to support REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in the long term before they can put targets on the table,” said Bill Barclay of Rainforest Action Network.
Poor nations had previously agreed to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it for good by 2050, as long as those targets came with financial aid. Because targets “will determine the program’s level of ambition to reduce deforestation,” they must be a part of a deal, said the Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA).
As of late Thursday night, negotiators were still hashing out details for an accord on REDD. Targets remain up in the air.
The issue of targets “won’t be resolved without some commitment on funding,” Kate Dooley, a REDD campaigner for the UK-based campaign group FERN, told SolveClimate.
If a breakthrough comes, it will not be on long-term financing, she said, but on added dollars for “fast-start” funds — a move that could get poor nations to at least agree to a short-term, 2015 or 2020 target.
On Thursday, six countries including Australia, Britain, France, Japan and Norway announced a financial package of $3.5 billion for three years to underwrite REDD and revive negotiations in advance of the arrival of world leaders in Denmark. The U.S. pledged to pay a billion dollars of that total.
Barclay called the U.S. pledge a “drop in the bucket.”
Dooley agreed the amount adds up to “peanuts,” though she also noted there are “very few committed pots of money like that on the table for REDD.”
The money would likely come from the $30 billion pot of kick-start financing rich nations have said they will contribute to the wider global warming pact over a three-year period ending in 2012.
For REDD alone, analysts say that between $22.4 billion and $37.3 billion is needed from 2010-2015 to get a robust program off the ground.
Today in Copenhagen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a game-change financing announcement for a global warming treaty overall — a $100 billion financing scheme by 2020 that will be funded by rich nations and delivered to the world’s poorest.
“This will include a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us,” Clinton said.
The mention of forestry was no accident. Forest loss contributes an estimated 20 percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to UN figures; reducing it would deliver significant carbon savings.
With the overall Copenhagen talks struggling, REDD is seen as a chance to deliver at least one face-saving victory on climate change. Deforestation has long been considered ahead of the pack relative to the other big issues in the talks — mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing — all of which are still lagging behind REDD in terms of progress.
Don’t discount the possibility of hard targets and dollars returning, said an optimistic Roman Czebiniak, a forestry expert with Greenpeace. An agreement eventually signed by world leaders on REDD could very well have an aggressive goal, he said.
Some warn that even if we see a solid deal on forests this year, the low ambition from nations on reducing total global warming emissions could put the world’s trees on the road to ruin.
“If global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius, many scientists predict that tropical forests will be profoundly affected, experiencing extreme droughts, increased forest fires and other catastrophic weather events,” ECA said.
Even with a REDD deal, that may be in the future. The carbon emissions cuts proposed by wealthy countries so far at Copenhagen amount to a drop of 11 to 18 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. This would bring the world to a “temperature rise around 3 degree Celsius,” according to a document leaked today from the UN secretariat.