Though they may look like forests at first glance, palm oil plantations often have far lower biodiversity and store far less carbon than the genuine forests they replace. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim via flickr.
One more story making the rounds last week that you may have missed in the midst of all the continued oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico, but is worthwhile paying attention to: The top line is that the UN REDD program got $4 billion in funding, with $1 billion coming from Norway and going to Indonesia to help stop rampant deforestation there. The details are a bit more complex, and as Fred Pearce reminds us, there are lots of twists and turns in REDD that can hinder its potential if not deftly negotiated. REDD+ Hopes to Make Forests More Valuable Standing Than Cut Down
But before we get going here's the AP description of what's at stake:
Deforestation...is thought to account for up to 20 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere - as much as is emitted by all the world's cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships combined.
The new program - called REDD Plus, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation - will encourage rich nations to voluntarily finance forest-protecting projects while coordinating that aid to avoid waste and ensure transparency.
And here's some of the good news that's come out since the financing approval at the start of last week via the Economic Times:
Indonesia will revoke existing forestry licenses held by palm oil and timber firms to save natural forests under a $1 billion climate change deal signed with Norway last week, a government official said on Monday.
But, as Mongabay points out, the money coming from Norway won't go towards reforestation programs, only reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. So no REDD+, just REDD.
An Important Step Forward, But Road Ahead is Still Rocky
As this statement from WWF states, this is all a step forward:
This agreement sets an inspiring example of responsible climate cooperation between developing and industrialized nations. To WWF, it is of particular importance that the partners recognize that forest conservation is about much more than CO2 emissions. Safeguarding ecosystems, biodiversity and indigenous peoples' livelihoods is an absolute prerequisite for making this work - and obviously a crucial benefit in itself.
Activists during COP15 highlighted the potential problem of using forest preservation as a way of cutting emissions on paper, but not in practice. Photo: Matthew McDermott.
Indigenous Rights, Accurate Carbon Accounting, More Issues Stand Blocking the Path
But on to Fred Pearce, writing in Yale Environment 360--All throughout COP15, where the groundwork of REDD was laid and hailed as one of the few genuine successes, there was a counter theme being pushed by many in the activist community: While stopping deforestation is essential, the REDD program is likely to just be used by rich nations to claim emission reductions while not significantly changing behavior back home. It's all just a con-man's shell game. Not only that, but in doing so, indigenous communities are going to get further marginalized.
This and more is what Pearce hits upon. If this is all new to you, read all of Pearce (linked above) to get caught up; this is just going to become more and more of an issue. Here's a taste though, representative of just one of the many issues that will need to be addressed:
Is REDD fair? A looming problem is that REDD sets out to reward the bad boys of the forests if they mend their ways. The worse they are now, the more they stand to gain in the future. The bad guys are wise to this. On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, major companies responsible for pulping ancient rainforests now want to be rewarded with carbon credits for setting aside a small fraction of their huge landholdings for conservation.
Meanwhile the good guys -- those who have conserved their forests all along -- may get nothing. Nothing for Costa Rica, the only country in the tropics to have curbed rampant deforestation and increased its forest cover. Nothing for Guyana, which has kept its forests. And nothing for indigenous tribes who have looked after their forests for centuries.
Some say the rules should be changed to recognize long-time conservers. One carbon finance fund in London, Canopy Capital, has bought up the carbon-credit rights to the 370,000-hectare Iwokrama forest in Guyana in the hope of a payout one day. Such rewards may be fair. But if someone can gain carbon credits for protecting forests they never intended to destroy, that makes a mockery of the intention of REDD to compensate people who give up forest destruction. Paying people who have never destroyed their forests to ensure they carry on the good work may be valuable, but would not demonstrably reduce rates of deforestation or benefit the atmosphere. To pay them in carbon credits that could be sold to offset actual emissions would be potentially counterproductive in the fight against climate change.
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More on Deforestation:
REDD Forest Protection Scheme Still Missing Key Safeguards as Barcelona Climate Talks Close
Jane Goodall on Why She's REDD-Faced: Copenhagen's Big Market-Based Plan to Keep Forests Alive (Video)
Developed World Timber Demand Threatens to Undermine REDD Forest Protection Program