As the Copenhagen talks progress, negotiators must not miss the opportunity to ensure that forests become a vital part of the post-2012 climate change framework.
Efforts to mitigate dangerous climate change revolve around the overarching goal of holding the average increase in global temperatures to well below 2°C. With deforestation accounting for approximately 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear that any solution to the climate change problem must include a solution to deforestation. Yet, forests – valued for providing a range of environmental services – have thus far been entirely excluded from the global climate change regime.
Indeed, there are powerful economic and social drivers at the heart of deforestation. If we cannot ensure a way to sufficiently value standing trees over cut ones, we will not incentivize the behaviors and policies that will protect the world’s remaining forests.
REDD – “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation” – offers a pathway for helping countries reverse deforestation. However, REDD was kept out of the Kyoto agreement — in part due to concerns about feasibility and scope of the policy as well as skepticism about how benefits would be shared with communities. But the years since Kyoto have allowed for national level pilot projects which show clearly that feasibility challenges can be overcome. For example, the science and technology of forest monitoring have advanced to the point that measuring deforestation at the national level is now an achievable goal in most of the developing world.
The Brazilian state of Acre has implemented a deforestation monitoring system that combines remote sensing data and property level monitoring as part of an ambitious REDD policy. With this information it is possible to accurately assess and monitor the forest resources and ensure their protection.
Beyond models of feasibility, the successful implementation of REDD will require coordination at both the national and international levels. Building the necessary infrastructure for operational capacity and financing this will require a phased approach. Early phases, which will be underpinned by public financing, will center on nation-level institution building and the development of technical capacity. Ultimately, global carbon compliance markets can play a significant role in compensating countries for verified emissions reductions achieved during later phases of REDD.
In fact, while a global market for forest carbon is years from being realized, the investment community has already taken notice. Professionals in the SRI, carbon trading and sustainability fields are thinking carefully about how to value forest carbon as an asset; how to project the potential size of the market; what rules and mechanisms can facilitate the most efficient market; and what country-level projects offer best practices.
Investors are also clear that while their market can provide an efficient means of developing a global market, their shared view is that public financing is vital to the start up phase of REDD. Without both the political support from key countries – U.S., EU, China, India and major forested nations – and key national legislative initiatives, REDD will remain a policy in name only.
It is critical that the final text of the post-2012 agreement include firm commitments from developed countries to provide financial and technical support to developing countries, especially for the early phases of REDD. This must be combined with a clear regulatory framework, which will guide the development of national level institutions and give the private sector the certainty it needs to play a constructive role forward in what many expect to be significant and vibrant part of the carbon markets. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to ensure that standing forests are included in the post 2012 framework.
Chris Elliott is Lead for World Wildlife Fund‘s Forest Carbon Initiative.