Press Release / Nov. 6, 2009

REDD forest agreement hits new low, missing basic elements

No monitoring, no protection of natural forests means continued forest emissions

Barcelona - Prospects for a robust agreement to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries (REDD) are on a knife-edge as the United Nations climate change negotiations in Barcelona draw to a close today, according to forest and climate experts from the Ecosystems Climate Alliance.

New REDD negotiating text (Non-Paper No. 39) released on Thursday afternoon, contains no provisions to monitor vital safeguards in developing countries which will receive funding to implement REDD, nor any explicit language that will ensure an objective of protecting intact natural forests in those countries. REDD is intended to help developing countries protect their remaining rainforests and reduce the 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation, forest degradation and peatland destruction.

Vital issues awaiting resolution in Copenhagen are:

  • safeguards for transparent forest governance structures and support mechanisms {4(c)};
  • safeguards for the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities {4(e)};
  • safeguards on conservation of biological diversity and enhancement of ecosystem services {4(f)}.
  • an objective for protecting intact natural forests.

Gaping holes remain, and, importantly, there are no provisions to monitor compliance with these proposed safeguards should they be incorporated into the agreement.  Most countries which stand to benefit from REDD funds have poor legal frameworks and weak enforcement. 

"If developing countries want to benefit from REDD, they need to build confidence in the frameworks they put in place, and demonstrate that safeguards are being met. The text as it stands reflects a strong push to receive REDD funds with no oversight," said Dr. Rosalind Reeve of Global Witness, one of nine NGOs which constitute the Ecosystems Climate Alliance.  "With no provisions to monitor how countries are implementing REDD and applying safeguards, the REDD agreement is worth no more than the paper it is written on."

A key safeguard of the REDD text - "against the conversion of natural forests to forest plantations" - which vanished at the Bangkok talks in October, has reappeared in two options but both are severely weakened and in square brackets, so there is no assurance that the provision will remain intact.

"Still missing is the vital objective of protecting intact natural forests in REDD," said Peg Putt of The Wilderness Society. "A flickering candle for a safeguard against plantation conversion is burning but we are quite concerned that it will be snuffed out in Copenhagen. Without this safeguard, REDD monies projected to preserve tropical forests could instead allow industrial-scale logging and replacement of forests with pulp or palm oil plantations."

REDD could become one of the few outcomes from Copenhagen, particularly now that the UNFCCC has acknowledged that COP15 will produce, at best, a watered-down, non-binding, "political" agreement. Two REDD options appear possible. Substantial sections of the current negotiating text could be inserted into the COP15 agreement, which is likely to be a version of the "Shared Vision" document (Non-paper No. 33) released on October 23. Most likely, however, is that the COP15 agreement will contain only a short paragraph on REDD and refer to a separate document (the current REDD text, to be further negotiated in Copenhagen) and relegated to a decision subsidiary to the main agreement.

No adjustments to the safeguard ensuring the rights and full and effective participation of indigenous and forest dependent peoples were made in Barcelona, but ECA members say the language is decidedly weak.

"A REDD deal might end up as a greenwashing exercise if there is no legally-binding climate change agreement at Copenhagen," said Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest Foundation UK. "Runaway climate change would devastate tropical forests and forest-dependent peoples even if a separate decision on REDD is reached."

The social and economic forces which drive demand for forest products and result in forest destruction receive scant attention in the REDD agreement.

"Global demand for food, fuel and fibre is driving deforestation," said Andrea Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency, noting that the U.S. has been a leader in raising this issue in the REDD discussions. "All countries must support good governance and forest protection through their own policies and measures, not just cash."

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.

"A REDD mechanism that does not provide adequate incentives to protect and rewet organic soils ignores very high and ongoing emissions that result from deforestation and forest degradation (e.g. 500 Mt/CO2/yr in Indonesia). It could also stimulate and reward plantations on yet deforested and drained soils (and other ecosystems) with significant carbon stocks resulting in large emissions," said Susanna Tol of Wetlands International.

Forest management accounting for developed countries (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry, or LULUCF) has also taken a severe turn for the worse. Parties have put forward various loopholes in the LULUCF text that will allow each to arbitrarily adjust its own reference level for measuring greenhouse gas emissions from forest management, undermining their emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

"Developed countries will bring their Christmas wish lists to Copenhagen," said Rebecca Ettlinger of Nepenthes, "so developing nations must plan to scrutinize their requests closely to avoid these undermining the integrity of the climate deal by hiding emissions or claiming fraudulent credits."

Although some type of agreement on REDD may be the most positive Copenhagen outcome, without forest protection and enforcement of safeguards as its key priorities, it will threaten rather than preserve the world's remaining natural forests.

/ Ends

Contact: Don Lehr +34 62 580 5301, + 1 917 304 4058,[email protected]

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.