Leading NGO experts warn that countries must act now to avoid perverse incentives and unintended consequences
Bangkok - As the United Nations climate change talks resume today in Bangkok, leading forest and climate experts from the Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA) warn that negotiations on the forest component of the proposed treaty, called "reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD)," risk failing to either reduce emissions or to prevent deforestation. Since Southeast Asia is a region of the world with a high rate of deforestation and peatland degradation, ECA members anticipate that this will lend more urgency to the REDD negotiations.
"The rules for REDD are being set now," said Bill Barclay of Rainforest Action Network, "but forest protection is being ceded to carbon cowboys and corporate greed. If we don't act now to prioritize the protection of intact natural forests including their soils, we will lose a unique opportunity to end the deforestation and degradation that is contributing to climate change."
Destruction of tropical and peat swamp forests accounts for nearly 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has always been among the most contentious and complex issues in the climate change negotiations. The international community committed to address deforestation in the 2007 Bali Action Plan [section 1(b)(iii)], pledging to create: "Policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries."
Negotiations to date, however, are failing to deliver on that mandate. Hopes for protecting forests through the UNFCCC process require renewed focus on protecting intact natural forests through avoiding deforestation and forest degradation, and progress must be achieved at the Bangkok meeting.
Like everything in the treaty text, details matter. ECA is calling on all country delegations to strengthen the following areas:
Change the deficient definition of "forest" being used in the climate negotiations: The UNFCCC definition of forest does not distinguish between natural forests and plantations. Unless this is changed, measures to introduce REDD into a future climate agreement could have the perverse result of encouraging conversion and destruction of the world's remaining natural forests.
Beat back industry interference: A subtle change of language from the original Bali mandate now frames the entire scope of REDD-plus within the context of promoting "sustainable forest management," that in practice is closely associated with the logging industry and destructive activities such as industrial-scale logging of intact natural forests.
"Sustainable forest management is industry-speak for logging," said Sean Cadman of The Wilderness Society. "Forests that have been logged or degraded have lower carbon stocks, less biodiversity and less resilience than primary forests. Tree plantations are even worse. REDD provides the opportunity to break the cycle of industrial-scale deforestation by placing economic value on the role of standing forests in climate change mitigation."
Address below-ground carbon stocks: Below-ground carbon stocks (organic soil carbon) in forests must also be accounted for to prevent plantations on drained peatlands from receiving credits for what would, in fact, be ongoing emissions.
Strengthen governance and monitoring, reporting, and verification: Most countries which stand to benefit from REDD suffer from poor legal frameworks, weak enforcement, and collusion between political elites and the logging industry. Good governance and comprehensive systems for monitoring REDD, which include independent "on-the-ground" monitoring, will be vital to effective REDD implementation.
"Measuring, reporting and verifying carbon stocks will not be enough. Good governance must underpin REDD," said Dr. Rosalind Reeve of Global Witness. "Policies, measures, and performance must all be monitored closely."
Secure Indigenous and local peoples' rights: Since an estimated 1.6 billion people in developing countries are dependent on forests for their basic needs and livelihoods, REDD must directly benefit local communities and Indigenous Peoples and respect their rights and tenure.
"There is an increased understanding in the REDD negotiations that forests cannot be effectively protected without securing the rights of forest dependent communities," said Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest Foundation UK, "but the current text does not sufficiently reflect this and must be strengthened."
Tackle the drivers of deforestation: Agricultural commodities, biofuels, and wood and paper products, in many cases being produced in illegal or highly unsustainable ways, are driving global deforestation and degradation.
"Without policies and measures to reduce market demand for illegal or unsustainable commodities, countries around the world will be consuming in ways that undermine the same REDD activities their dollars are going to support," said Andrea Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Contact: Don Lehr +1 917 304 4058; Margaret Swink +66 0848 991 259
Read Global Witness' latest briefing on REDD
Read more about Global Witness' work on forests and climate
The Ecosystems Climate Alliance (ECA) is an alliance of environment and social NGOs committed to keeping natural terrestrial ecosystems intact and their carbon out of the atmosphere, in an equitable and transparent way that respects the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. ECA recognises that avoiding emissions of terrestrial carbon stored in the soils and biomass of forests, peatlands and wetlands represents the largest potential single opportunity for cost-effective greenhouse gas mitigation. ECA advocates climate, forest and land use policies to give strong, equitable, transparent and positive incentives free of perversities for avoiding the degradation of terrestrial carbon stores and for rehabilitating degraded land, supported by effective forest governance, robust monitoring and demand-side policies to ensure meaningful outcomes. ECA comprises Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Global Witness, Humane Society International, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, The Rainforest Foundation U.K., Wetlands International and The Wilderness Society.