Reporting from Copenhagen
UN negotiators from poor nations are threatening to abandon targets on curbing deforestation if there is no commitment from the rich to pay for a forestry scheme.
"To just have a target without a financial commitment, developing countries see as a trap," Kevin Conrad, special envoy and ambassador for environment and climate change for Papua New Guinea, told SolveClimate at the international climate negotiations under way in Copenhagen.
"It's not that we're afraid of the target," he said, "it's that we're afraid of being left high and dry."
The scheme, called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, is designed to pay poor nations to protect carbon-saving forests.
The text on the table at the start of the Copenhagen summit, December 7-18, would require forest nations to cut their deforestation rates in half by 2020 and end the practice completely by 2030. It says nothing about the level of financing to help those countries create incentives and monitoring and enforcement and other programs that can bring deforestation rates down.
Conrad said that 45 countries, comprising 90 percent of global tropical forests, are willing to slow deforestation by 25 percent over the next five years. But they need an up-front payout from the rich to get their programs off the ground.
Their biggest fear, he said, is that the "North forces a target on us and then it says, 'By the way, we forgot to raise the money'. And we'd be bound by a target."
According to estimates, the amount needed for REDD to be a success is somewhere in the ballpark of $25 billion per year in the long term. Greenpeace says that ending deforestation by 2020 would cost around $40 billion annually. A UN financing group made up of 20 nations active in REDD has proposed an interim solution of about $22 billion to $36 billion between 2010 and 2015.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed on Friday that $25 billion be raised between 2010 and 2015 to support the end of deforestation.
The announcement out of the UK, Conrad said, "creates a positive wind in very negative negotiations to date — a positive wind if it carries through to a successful outcome."
Most analysts agree that unlocking billions to make REDD work is vital to an adequate climate-fighting scheme. The reason being, chopping down forests contributes some 20 percent to worldwide carbon pollution.
"If deforestation is left unchecked, then we will definitely exceed the 2 degree Celsius target and may even see 3 degree in the long term," said Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the UK-based Met Office Hadley Centre.
Currently, there are no concrete dollar commitments from the rich on financing forest preservation. In fact, the only climate money on the table in Copenhagen is "kick-start" funding worth $10 billion a year from 2010 through 2012.
That amount is supposed to cover everything, including REDD.
"It's just a dirty greenwash," Roman Czebiniak, political advisor on climate change and forests for Greenpeace, told SolveClimate.
Proposals are floating around Copenhagen to use 20 percent of those fast-track funds for REDD, or a total of $2 billion a year from all rich nations. That would be the same amount that Norway has pledged to deliver to forest preservation efforts on its own.
"We need to do better than that," Czebiniak said.
Once seen as the lone hope for a successful Copenhagen negotiations, forestry talks seem to have gotten caught up in the rich-poor rift that is threatening to bring down the negotiations as a whole.
To unclog the REDD deadlock, observers say the decisions on targets and financing will likely be taken up by high-level ministers and potentially even heads of state when they arrive next week.
Failure is seen as too risky.
Climate scientists says the world must cut global warming emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020 to avoid catastrophic effects. The numbers now on the table in Copenhagen add up to around 11 to 18 percent. An effective REDD scheme with targets and financing "could potentially get us into what the science says is needed," Czebiniak said.
"There's lot of pressure on REDD to deliver something," he added.
In a possible preview of his Copenhagen visit next week, President Barack Obama put his considerable weight behind REDD on Thursday. After receiving his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway, he declared that slowing deforestation
is "probably the most cost-effective way for us to address the issue of climate change."
Specifically, the U.S. president endorsed an approach released by Norway and Brazil, which is based on financing REDD with actual public funding from wealthy nations, not offsets.
"[The speech] was good, and it was better than what we've seen the negotiators do [in Copenhagen]," Czebiniak said.