Plan to pay countries to keep forests

An ambitious plan to fight climate change by paying states to preserve their forests could be a rare bright spot at next month’s UN climate talks—but many questions remain unresolved.

The REDD+ mechanism—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation—offers financial compensation to countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Congo River basin states if they protect vital tropical forests.

Deforestation accounts for nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions—more than the global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector—and destroys the earth’s precious pollution-absorbing carbon sinks.

In the Chinese city of Tianjin, where negotiators are trying this week to break a stalemate in United Nations talks for a global warming deal before next month’s summit in Mexico, REDD+ has emerged as a potential rallying point.

“We were very close to an agreement in Copenhagen (last year),” a European negotiator told AFP on condition of anonymity. “But the end of the conference was so chaotic, we weren’t able to get it through the chain of approval.”

Delegates were working on a framework agreement enshrining the mechanism and a series of “safeguards” to prevent states from violating the rights of their indigenous peoples in the name of forest protection.

In the meantime, Norway and France signalled they were unwilling to wait for the often laborious UN negotiations to conclude and launched their own initiative.

Northern countries have already pledged four billion dollars over three years to the programme.

But many obstacles remain before REDD+ can help halt deforestation, according to Greenpeace’s international forest climate campaigner Paul Winn.
Financing the forests
Parties “have done everything to avoid the issues”, Winn said.

Prickly, but fundamental, issues include: How to put a price on each tonne of avoided carbon? Should calculations be based on past deforestation or future plans? How can nations prevent forests from being held hostage for ransom?

And perhaps the most important question is: the cost of REDD+ is estimated at tens of billions of dollars per year—where will the money come from?

The idea of financing the fight against deforestation, even in part, through carbon markets as proposed by the European Union has sparked a furious reaction from non-governmental organisations and Bolivia, the main opponents to the scheme.

For Greenpeace, such a system risks reducing pressure on developed countries to reduce their own emissions because they could “buy” cheap pollution rights.

“Mother Nature is not for sale,” Bolivia’s chief negotiator, Pablo Solon, insisted on Wednesday.

In addition there are concerns over how to protect the rights of indigenous people without violating the sovereignty of the affected states.

“This will not be easily resolved,” the European negotiator said.

Finally, how to guarantee the money goes to the right people?

“Corruption is a big threat because there is really going to be a lot of money,” said Victoria Tauli-Carpuz, a member of the delegation from the Philippines in Tianjin.

The number of outstanding issues will require years of negotiation, Greenpeace’s Winn said.

In the meantime, some 13-million hectares of forest—a space equal to the size of Greece—vanishes each year. - AFP

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