Monday, December 19, 2011

Saving the rest of the rainforests

17 December 2011
Source: New Straits Times

Schoolchildren taking part in an outdoor class that teaches them about native Amazon trees in a park in Paragominas, Brazil. AP pic

SINCE the 13th round of climate change talks in Bali in 2007, the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries has moved from laggard to leader in the international climate change negotiations.

Major efforts have been carried out by the international community, donor countries and rainforest countries. This is an area where we truly have a reason to be both proud and optimistic.

Nonetheless, significant challenges remain. The economic drivers of deforestation are strong. Global demand for timber, palm oil, sugar, soya and beef, increasing in light of population growth and higher standards of living, will continue to yield pressure on the forests.

Successfully reducing global deforestation rates will rest on our ability to offer significant incentives to actors making land-use decisions. Business-as-usual is no option -- the consequences would simply be too devastating.

Firstly, the destruction of tropical forests could cause as much as one sixth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The two-degree target will be impossible to reach without significant reductions in tropical deforestation.

Secondly, forests are the home of indigenous peoples, and constitute a safety net for some of the world's poorest people. One billion people depend directly or indirectly on forests for their livelihoods.

Thirdly, tropical forests contain half of the world's terrestrial species on only seven per cent of the world surface area. Biodiversity is the natural capital for sustainable development.

The value of the earth's natural capital losses has been estimated to be US$2 trillion to US$4.5 trillion (RM6.3 trillion to RM14.3 trillion); in other words, greater than the losses from the financial crisis. Today, 17,000 plant and animal species are endangered globally.

You may say that life's library is in flames. And make no mistake -- extinction is forever.

The loss of biodiversity in our age can be compared to previous mass extinctions, but this time, human beings are the ones responsible. Degradation of ecosystems combined with climate change may lead to so called "tipping points" -- self-reinforcing mechanisms, for example, the release of massive amounts of methane as a result of the melting of the Siberian tundra -- that could make negative developments spin out of human control altogether.

A loss of 20 to 30 per cent in the Amazon combined with an average two-degree rise in the temperature may lead to collapse of the Amazon rainforest. In short: it is time the world's tropical forests get bailed out.

The good news: although challenging, the prospects of saving the world's remaining rainforests have never looked better. Significant progress has been made under the climate change negotiations.

At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, the international community further detailed a framework to work collectively to slow, halt and reverse emissions from forests in developing countries. Although several details remain, we are moving forward.

There are important risks involved with Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, internationally known as REDD+. However, business-as-usual spells certain disaster. Therefore, we must address the risks of REDD+ head on: developing countries will have to improve forest governance to deliver lasting results in deforestation; groundbreaking levels of transparency will be required to verify the results qualifying for REDD+ finance; and financial mechanisms must be established that balance sovereignty over development spending priorities with the demonstrated application of high international safeguards standards.

A broad constituency of forest countries has emerged, eager to get REDD+ started on the ground. The multilateral and bilateral initiatives, as well as a plethora of academic institutions and civil society organisations, are creating a global community to support REDD+ action. We are learning and sharing valuable lessons every day.

All in all, developments are truly remarkable. Some developing countries -- Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular -- are leading the way.

For instance, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was 64 per cent lower last year than between 1996 and 2005. This equals 850 tonnes of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Indonesia, the world's third largest emitter after the United States and China, has committed to reduce emissions by 26 per cent out of their own funds and 41 per cent with international assistance. Almost 80 per cent of the emissions in Indonesia come from deforestation and conversion of peat lands.

If Indonesia succeeds by 2020, one billion tonnes of carbon emissions will be saved, equalling as much as seven per cent of what is needed on a global basis to reach the two-degree target. To support these remarkable efforts, Norway has pledged US$1 billion to each country, to be paid based on verified results in reaching their goals.

Tremendous progress has been made since Bali to prepare the world for a global mechanism to reduce tropical deforestation. An integrated multilateral architecture is being created that supports all committed forest countries in their "readiness" efforts.

National strategies are being prepared and monitoring systems and institutional capacities built. Key countries are pushing rapidly ahead.

Now, adequate, predictable and sustainable medium and long term funding is needed to deliver and reward large scale verified results in reducing tropical deforestation. In Bali, the Government of Norway made the pledge to spend up to US$500 million annually for REDD+.

Since then, more commitments for action and financing have been put on the table. Around US$4 billion has been pledged for REDD+ next year and a multitude of developing countries are willing to step up their efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. There is every reason to be optimistic. This is an area where we can, and where we already are, achieving significant results -- even before a final international climate agreement is settled.

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