Press Release / Sept. 30, 2011

Time for countries to honour promises on forest protection at UN talks

Developed countries must honour previous agreements by committing the billions of dollars needed to fund a key United Nations initiative to protect the world's remaining forests and prevent irreversible climate change, said Global Witness as fresh climate change negotiations begin in Panama today. They must also agree systems and conditions to ensure the money is used well by forest protection programs in recipient countries.

In December 2010, negotiators at the UN climate talks in Cancun reached a landmark agreement to pay developing countries to reduce deforestation. Known as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), the scheme aims to make forest protection as lucrative as logging or clearing forest to farm animals and crops. The scheme is now largely reliant on developed countries committing the funds needed for long term financing, but so far this has not happened.

This week’s meeting in Panama will be crucial in setting the tone for December’s headline UN climate talks in South Africa. It is the ideal opportunity for developed nations to show leadership in pushing REDD+ forward alongside agreeing to cut their own emissions at home significantly. They must also take the opportunity to ensure their funding does its job by making it dependent on performance – that means establishing rules and oversight organisations in national programs to prevent the misuse of funds.

“It’s time for rich countries to do what they promised last year - with investment from rich countries and the right rules in place,  this scheme could help slow the rate of global deforestation and provide a massive boost to the overall fight against climate change,” said Fiona Napier, associate director at Global Witness. “Developing countries have shown willingness to implement deep reform and major national REDD+ programmes  – now developed nations must step up and provide the billions of dollars they agreed to make it work.”

Only 20% of the world’s existing forest area remains untouched, and each year an area the size of Greece is destroyed, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and contributing significantly to climate change. Most of this destruction is a result of logging and clearing tropical forests to make way for agriculture and plantations.

The 2010 deal is an innovative attempt to address this problem, but it will only work if the money is forthcoming. Estimates suggest that at least $17 billion will be needed every year to make REDD+ work but so far only $5 billion has been pledged to cover the short term until 2012, to support countries taking initial steps to design and implement REDD+. This leaves a huge shortfall in the medium to long term. Countries such as the UK, the US, Japan and Norway, as well as the EU, must show their long-term commitment by pledging long term and reliable finance streams for REDD+.

“The agreement reached in Cancun is just words on paper if governments do not commit the billions of dollars needed, and work out frameworks for how these funds will be managed.” said Napier. “This could not be more urgent. Failure to act now would be tantamount to accepting terminal damage to our climate, the environment and the livelihoods of a billion forest-dwelling people.”

Generating the money needed to make REDD+ work will require new and innovative approaches to generating funds. Negotiators at Panama must therefore look at proposed ideas such as a financial transactions tax and levies on international shipping and aviation.  /


Contact: Davyth Stewart in Panama +44 (0)7912 517147

Fiona Napier in London +44 (0)7703 718671 or +44 (0)207 492 5894

Oliver Courtney in London +44 (0)7739 324962

Notes to editors:

1. REDD+ is an international mechanism under negotiation within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It aims to provide payment to governments, groups and communities undertaking five types of forest protection activities in developing countries: reducing emissions from deforestation, reducing emissions from forest degradation, conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of the amount of carbon stored in forests.

2. For further information on REDD+ see ‘Understanding REDD+’, a briefing paper by Global Witness available here.

3. A financial transaction tax would mean a small tax imposed on certain types of financial transaction. The idea has been widely discussed in relation to the recent financial crisis and most recently proposed by the European Commission. Limiting greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and aviation fuels (termed ‘bunkers’) is a topic of discussion under the climate negotiations. A tax on these fuels could provide funding for activities that tackle climate change.

4. For further information on the risks of corruption and illegality within the REDD+ scheme and how to minimise them, see ‘Forest Carbon, Cash and Crime’, a briefing paper by Global Witness.