Googling the rainforest

Matt Hawcher, Google

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Halting deforestation now: a shared global responsibility

Hilary Benn, CREDIT: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Climate change has made it unmistakably clear that the consequences of deforestation are a truly global problem. That’s why halting deforestation to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions must be a shared global responsibility. Exactly how the responsibilities must be shared was the subject of an afternoon plenary session at Forest Day 3, taking place in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Sir Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, who authored the influential Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, examined the question from an economic perspective, emphasizing the relatively low cost of reducing deforestation in comparison with the huge benefits that would result from determined global action.

Responsibility for designing appropriate policies must reside with the “countries where the trees stand,” Stern said, because they have the best understanding of the conditions required for success. Yet, responsibility for paying the costs of deforestation must be shared globally, and this effort must be part of a larger development strategy that reduces rural poverty. Stern went on to discuss options for financing efforts to halt deforestation, calling on governments to come up with serious financial packages that include new sources of public funds, including debt instruments.

Hilary Benn, the UK’s Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, reinforced this message about shared responsibilities, citing important examples of commitment and leadership, such as Wangari Maathai’s establishment of the Green Belt Movement, which earned her the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize; UK prime minister Gordon Brown’s recent “game-changing” proposal on “fast-start financing;” and the bold efforts of Eduardo Braga, president of Brazil’s Amazonas State, to drastically reduce deforestation.

Benn urged governments and climate negotiators to turn the consensus on forests and climate change into a final climate agreement, which he said is the most important thing that can be done now to preserve our natural world. Citing Charles Darwin’s observation that surviving species are not necessarily the strongest or most intelligent but those able to adapt, Benn stressed that the time is now to secure the future of our children and grandchildren.

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What’s gender got to do with it?

Lucy Wanjiru, Global Gender & Climate Alliance (Kenya)

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Should a perfect REDD deal get in the way of a good one?

Wangari Maathai, CREDIT: CIAT

by Vanessa Meadu and Jeff Haskins

The release of a draft agreement outlining a framework for REDD has created a new sense of optimism among some observers of the negotiations that a mechanism aimed at protecting rainforests as a means to mitigate climate change will be included in the next global climate agreement. But for others, the draft text, which arrived in the inboxes of journalists, negotiators and others overnight in Copenhagen, raised more questions than answers, because it lacked specific details on crucial items, such as specific targets for reducing forest emissions or the amount of financing that would be invested.

This morning, participants in a Forest Day 3 sub-plenary session on mitigation shared through a live survey their opinions on a number of issues pertaining to the REDD negotiations. This is the first time that Forest Day organizers have surveyed participants as a means of measuring consensus about an outcome statement from the event. Such statements from the two previous Forest Days have helped shape forest-related negotiations in Poznan and Bali.

One of the issues about which most participants agreed was the scope of REDD, i.e., which land uses should be included or excluded for emissions reductions credits. Over half of the respondents expressed optimism that Copenhagen would result in a REDD-plus deal that includes forest conservation, sustainable management of forests, and carbon stock enhancement.

This convergence is also evident in the current negotiations. One expert at Forest Day commented that “some form of sustainable management of forests and forest conservation will be part of the program… REDD should protect against the conversion of indigenous forests. However, COP15 is almost halfway over, and there has been little agreement about the rest of the REDD options on the table.”

So, how likely is it that a deal will be struck, and how can parties move forward?

During her keynote speech, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom commented that parties should focus on agreeing on a general REDD+ framework and work out the details later, depending on local conditions.

Dr. Peter A Minang, global coordinator of the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, agreed, but pointed out that it may be too early for parties to do even this. “It’s still not clear which parts of a REDD deal should be general and which parts should be tailored to national circumstances,” he said. “Different countries have different capacities for implementing REDD, different financing requirements and different views on how to safeguard indigenous rights.”

In the afternoon, Tony La Viña, a negotiator for the Philippines and facilitator of the REDD contact group, dropped by to give participants an update on the latest state of negotiations. “There is room for optimism,” he said. The text has enough detail, but is short enough to allow for a decision. He explained that many issues such as structure and scope are generally agreed, and safeguards including ones for indigenous rights and biodiversity protection are approved in concept, although the legal language is not firm. “I think we can have an agreement that’s good for forests, good for climate and good for people and communities,” he said, but warned that anything can happen in negotiations, and a REDD deal may still depend on how an overall climate change deal develops.

A REDD agreement in Copenhagen must be more than an empty shell. It must also take into account the importance of getting the technical details right, so that participating countries can meet their full REDD potential. Negotiators will need to find the right balance between a good deal and a perfect one, so that REDD activities can begin to remove carbon from the atmosphere and generate good lessons that will make the mechanism better as it moves forward.

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Forest Day 3 Slideshow

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Forest Day en Français

Forest Day en Français.

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Getting REDD right

Gro Harlem Brundtland, CREDIT: Neil Palmer, CIAT

The opening plenary session of Forest Day 3 (FD3), a side event held today in conjunction with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, left no room for doubt about the important role of this event in rapidly evolving global efforts to mitigate climate change through the reduction of deforestation and forest degradation, commonly known as REDD. This was evident both from the content of the session and from the eminence of the speakers delivering the key messages.

At the first forest day held 2 years ago, the link between forests and a new global climate agreement was still merely a prospect, as pointed out by Francis Seymour, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in her welcome remarks. By FD2, the key question had become how forestry would be included in the negotiations. But participants at FD3 were already looking beyond Copenhagen to the “challenges that countries and communities will face, as they begin to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies related to forests.”

While acknowledging the potential of REDD and the progress that has been made, all of the speakers sounded a note of caution about what could go wrong. In video-recorded remarks, former US president Bill Clinton urged that measures be taken to avoid undermining the livelihoods of the rural people who depend on forests for a livelihood.

Likewise, the first keynote speaker, Elinor Ostrum, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics, warned against “simple formulas that may sound good but don’t have the desired result.” Such has been the case, for example, with the classical top-down approach of establishing government protected forest areas. Far more effective, Ostrum stressed, are adaptive approaches, which gain the trust of forest communities, respect their rights and involve them closely in forest monitoring, a practice that is positively associated with maintenance of forest density.

Focusing more on the policy arena, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, together with former US vice president Al Gore, observed that in recent decades forestry professionals have “yielded too much space to others.” He urged them to “think hard about how to correct this institutional imperfection,” as a prerequisite for better enabling forestry to serve as a “huge provider of goods and services,” including that of climate change mitigation.

Echoing Ostrum, he also warned against unworkable top-down approaches, calling for a bottom-up forestry movement, or “religion.” He also highlighted the need for wider and more effective use of scientific knowledge as a means of creating the conditions by which the political will needed for climate change adaptation and mitigation in forests can “bubble up to the top.”

Also acknowledging considerable risks, Gro Harlem Brundtland, chair of the commission whose 1987 report, Our Common Future, coined the term “sustainable development,” spelled out the “overarching commitments” and key steps needed to get REDD off the ground. Industrialized countries, for example, must provide compensation for reducing deforestation, while developing countries must carry this out in a transparent and sustainable manner, respecting the rights of forest communities.

Conveying a message of urgency and optimism, Brundtland stressed the importance of learning quickly how to implement the new and ambitious concept of REDD, a role that CIFOR and others must fulfill with true excellence. She called also called on government leaders to make the right decisions and avoid the embarrassment of leaving Copenhagen, like the incompetent emperor of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, with no clothes on.

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