Thursday, November 19, 2009

REDD: Forest Conservation as a key part of Copenhagen

Yesterday, IISS intern Isabella Santoro went to an event at the Center for Global Development on the UN-REDD program. Below is her report about it.

Yesterday, 18 November, the Center for Global Development hosted a seminar titled “Financing Forest Conservation to Combat Global Warming: Keys to Success at Copenhagen.” The event featured eight guest speakers. They focused on the impact of deforestation on global warming, including potential solutions to the problem, examples of successes, and areas of failure.

Deforestation accounts for roughly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire global transportation sector, second only to the energy sector. For some countries, especially major emitters like Indonesia and Brazil, deforestation is the primary form of carbon emissions.

At Bali in 2007, diplomats in the UNFCCC proposed the United Nations Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) as a cost-effective and reliable measure to confront deforestation and climate change. The purpose of REDD is to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, so that more affluent countries such as the United States and other Western powers can provide a monetary incentive for developing countries to protect their forests as valuable carbon sinks. REDD has not yet been implemented, but it is expected to be part of an agreed framework that comes out of Copenhagen next month.

Nigel Purvis, President and Founder of Climate Advisers, spoke about the benefits of implementing REDD. He listed several advantages of REDD, saying it would: help mitigate climate change, provide a buffer from severe climate change, encourage countries to invest in climate adaptation, and create a monetary value for precious ecosystems in the poorest regions where there had been none before. However, there are obstacles and drawbacks to REDD. Deforestation is caused by many factors, including agricultural expansion, logging, infrastructure development and – most importantly – poor governance. Crystal Davis, an associate at the World Resources Institute, lists the following criteria as measures of good governance: transparency, participation, accountability, coordination and capacity. It is important to strike a balance between urgency, adequacy and equity when applying funding, as these can come into conflict with each other.

REDD will have to be applied in a timely manner, in support of local and sustainable practices, and with respect to the rights of the indigenous populations who rely on natural resources for survival. Manish Bapna, Executive Vice President of the World Resources Institute underscored this point, saying that we must make sure that developing countries are actually benefiting from REDD. The other main issue that must be confronted is mobilizing finance so that funding is applied in a reliable and predictable way. Too much money at one time can be counterproductive, because lasting solutions take time to implement. Funding should be stretched out over a longer period of time.

How can forest conservation be monitored on a global scale? Data collection remains scarce and often lacks context. Protected Areas of forests have shown to reduce deforestation. Nancy Birdsall, President of the Center for Global Engagement and David Wheeler, Senior Fellow at the Center presented their new and improved FORMA and CARMA programs. Forest monitoring for action (FORMA) developed a prototype system for monitoring deforestation in Indonesia by collecting satellite data from NASA satellites from 2005 to October 2009. Carbon monitoring for action (CARMA) provides a map detailing the carbon emissions of more than 50,000 power plants and 4,000 power companies in the world. Both interactive maps are available on CGD’s website. These programs are examples of ways to monitor both carbon emissions and deforestation on a global level so as to determine the actual effect of Protected Areas as well as the implementation of REDD.

So, the question becomes, will developed countries be willing to support the REDD agenda at the upcoming Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen? The science is clear: forest preservation must be a part of the solution if the global average temperatures are to be stabilized within two degrees Celsius. The United States and other Western powers stand to gain in every way from the global reduction of greenhouse gasses and they hold the key to making it happen. Providing financial incentives to reduce carbon emissions would promote global cooperation between developed and developing countries, protect poor and indigenous communities, spur global economic growth, and curb climate change.

(photo from Flickr, courtesy of Greenpeace)

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