Press Release / Nov. 2, 2009

EU sets back forest negotiations, threatens Copenhagen deal

Barcelona opportunity for UK push on forest protection

Barcelona - The future of the world's remaining rainforests will inch closer to resolution when United Nations climate change negotiations resume in Barcelona today as delegates from 190 countries decide on the fate of the forest component of the proposed Copenhagen climate treaty.

Negotiations on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD) ended in dramatic disarray at the most recent talks in Bangkok three weeks ago after a key provision - safeguards against the conversion of natural forests to forest plantations - vanished from the negotiating text on the final Thursday of the session.

Without the safeguard, REDD monies projected to help developing countries protect their remaining forests and reduce the 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation, forest degradation and peatland destruction could instead allow industrial-scale logging and replacement of tropical forests with pulp or palm oil plantations.  Tree plantations and degraded forests, logged or otherwise, have far lower carbon stocks and carbon-storage capacity than primary forests, and suffer from severe biodiversity loss, according to forest and climate experts from the Ecosystems Climate Alliance.

REDD negotiations in Barcelona must recover ground lost in Bangkok.  At the final Bangkok session, the European Union, supported by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other Congo Basin countries, used procedural grounds to refuse to reinstate the conversion safeguard, despite strong requests to do so from more than 20 countries including Brazil, India, Mexico, Switzerland and Norway.  At a press conference the next day, however, the European Commission's chief negotiator called the blocking of text "an unfortunate mishap" and indicated that "in policy terms we can support that particular paragraph moved in."

"The protection of intact natural forests should be a core element of REDD, but so far it is still not in any text proposals," said Peg Putt from The Wilderness Society, one of nine NGOs which constitute the Ecosystems Climate Alliance.  "Barcelona may be the last chance for forests, and we need Parties to step up and say so."

Signs of hope, however, appeared last week from sources at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, quoted in the October 26 edition of The Independent newspaper in London saying, "The UK is pushing hard for the strongest possible deal to stop deforestation and that includes wanting specific language in the UN text on the protection of natural forests."

"This is encouraging.  Now we'd like to see the UK  translate these words into action by showing some leadership in the EU that will ensure restoration of the essential safeguard provision against the conversion of natural forests," said Dr. Rosalind Reeve of Global Witness.

With only a month to go before the Copenhagen climate summit, Barcelona is crucial to resolving problems in the current REDD text that threaten rather than support protection of the world's remaining natural forests.  Discussions on the core "Objectives and Scope" of the REDD treaty were put off until Barcelona in order to focus on safeguards in Bangkok.

But many of those safeguards remain unresolved, including addressing governance in countries which stand to benefit from REDD, and ensuring the rights and full and effective participation of indigenous and forest dependent peoples. 

"Rainforests are not empty areas of carbon sticks, they are home to hundreds of millions of indigenous and forest dependent peoples who have established rights secured through various international agreements and standards," said Nils Hermann Ranum of Rainforest Foundation Norway.  "Without a guarantee to ensure their rights and their full and effective participation, REDD will do them more harm than good."

Essential incentives to reduce ongoing emissions from drained peat forest soils, and safeguards to prevent the conversion of not only forests but also of other natural ecosystems to plantations have not yet been addressed.

Crucial language confronting the social and economic forces which drive demand for forest products and result in forest destruction also disappeared completely from the REDD text in Bangkok.

"Do we actually expect to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation when the same countries funding REDD are buying illegal timber and palm oil in no-questions-asked markets?" said Andrea Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

While momentum builds that a REDD agreement may be one of the few positive Copenhagen outcomes to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, without forest protection as its key priority, those hopes will be shattered.

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Contact: Don Lehr + 34 625 805 301, + 1 917 304 4058, [email protected]

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 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.