United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen ended without a clear directive to save the world’s forests, an issue seen as critical for averting dangerous climate change.
An agreement on REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in developing countries, was expected to be completed last week as the talks wrapped up.
But the final “Copenhagen Accord” only recognized the importance of ending deforestation; it gave no specifics on what REDD will look like or what it will include.
“Business as usual logging and forest conversion will continue,” said Stephen Leonard of the Australian Orangutan Project.
About 32 million acres of forests, an area the size of Nicaragua, are razed each year, according to figures from the Global Canopy Programme (GCP), an alliance of 37 scientific institutions in 19 countries.
The idea behind REDD is to pay poor nations to keep those trees standing. The scheme is seen as critical to a new international climate change regime. Forests store carbon; chopping them down is responsible for almost 20 percent of global warming emissions, according to UN scientists.
Analysts are still trying to wrap their brains around the meaning of the Copenhagen agreement.
In terms of REDD, the accord “is a little hard to interpret,” Bill Barclay of the Rainforest Action Network told SolveClimate.
Barclay said the promise of short-term cash offers a fissure of clarity amid the ambiguity. The accord specifically calls for the “immediate establishment” of a mechanism to unleash funds for forest protection.
The money is on the table. In Copenhagen, six countries — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Australia and Norway — pledged $3.5 billion over the next three years to kick start REDD. A billion of that would come from the U.S.
The funds would be pumped into poor nations to do prep work for REDD.
Some observers say it’s not enough, though. They’re calling for at least $25 billion a year to get REDD off the ground, based on research from the Informal Working Group for Interim Finance on REDD, a project of the Prince of Wales and the government of Norway.
The group found that between $22.4 billion and $37.3 billion would be needed from 2010-2015.
In the meantime, the committed, fast-start forestry cash could flow from the “Copenhagen Green Climate Fund” in a matter of months. The fund, agreed to in Copenhagen, would deliver $10 billion in total climate financing each year from 2010-2012 to developing countries.
Barclay said the “the green fund is positive” but “still uncertain.”
“The [Copenhagen Accord] doesn’t have the legal authority to adopt this fund,” he added.
The reason is simple: It is not a binding treaty. Delegates from 193 nations merely took “note” of the text’s existence in the frantic, final hours of the conference.
What is certain is that climate talks have been given another chance. Nations agreed to continue negotiations until the next UN summit in Mexico at the end of 2010, but they set no firm goal for conclusion of a binding international treaty.
For REDD, that means it will “be negotiated for another year,” Kate Dooley, a forest campaigner for the Belgium-based FERN, told SolveClimate.
Rich-Poor Rift Taints REDD
REDD is the “‘A’ student” of the UN climate change negotiations, Stewart Maginnis, director of the Environment and Development Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) told SolveClimate during week one — at a time when progress was being made.
But forestry talks got bogged down by the same rich-poor divide that stymied progress on a wider global warming pact.
The main sticking point: long-term funding.
Delegates from poor nations were leery of committing to a long-term goal for reducing deforestation without guarantees from the rich to cover the costs of the plan.
Coming into the talks, developing countries had agreed to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it entirely by 2050. These goals were deleted, reinserted or bracketed in various revisions of the negotiating text.
Targets are “very key,” Barclay said.
Without them, “REDD becomes toothless,” said Peg Putt of the Wilderness Society.
The final draft text of the REDD working group, the basis for all future negotiations, contains a placeholder for the target.
On long-term cash, the Copenhagen Accord agreed to a general goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020. But it remains to be seen how much of that would be used for saving forests.
Greenpeace says that ending deforestation by 2020 would cost around $40 billion annually.
There is still “nothing on long-term financing” that could break the REDD logjam, Barclay said. “That’s still being discussed.”
“Fair” Text on Table
Work on REDD will continue over the next year on the basis of the most recent draft hashed out by negotiators, dated Dec. 15, 2009.
The text is “fair,” Barclay said.
Dooley said, “it will be important to further strengthen” the conversion safeguard, among other things.
The safeguard Dooley referred to would ensure that poor nations don’t get paid for razing native forests and turning them into plantations. The issue appears to be unresolved.
Barclay said there is language that “would seem to help” end conversion of natural forests.
Many advocates say it must be stronger. They claim palm oil production is one of the main drivers of rapid deforestation, and that plantations increase emissions. A battle is now brewing over the highly contentious issue. A new report by NGO World Growth argues that “palm oil plantations are very effective carbon sinks — a stark contrast to propaganda to the contrary.”
REDD’s success also depends on enforcement of forest protection in countries that would get billions of dollars from the scheme. Most REDD-eligible states are run by some of the world’s most corrupt governments.
The text on the table calls for “a robust and transparent national forest monitoring system.” But that phrase has been placed between two brackets, meaning it is still very much up for debate.
Another stumbling block to a legal deal on REDD is protecting indigenous rights, especially their land rights. According to GCP, forest resources support the livelihoods of 90 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty.
The current REDD text has language to protect forest-dependent communities. But it is either too weak, say advocates, or in brackets.
Forestry Depends on Drastic CO2 Cuts
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is getting nations to dramatically shrink their fossil fuel emissions, a key component of an effective forestry regime.
“Forests must be part of the overall package to halt climate change, not a stand-alone deal,” said Kenn Mondiai of Eco Forestry Forum Papua New Guinea.
On its own, ending deforestation would not keep the global temperature rise under 2 degree Celsius, the scientifically accepted edge of the danger zone for catastrophic warming.
The current level of carbon-reduction pledges would commit the planet to a 3 degree Celsius rise, according to document leaked in Copenhagen from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
At those temperatures, “scientists predict that tropical forests will be profoundly affected, experiencing extreme droughts, increased forest fires and other catastrophic weather events,” said the Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA).