Pay-To-protect Forest Plan Gets Cautious Welcome

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Pay-To-protect Forest Plan Gets Cautious Welcome

Environmentalists warn the global fund would give rich nations a cheaper alternative to cutting their own greenhouse emissions and put at risk the human rights of a billion people who depend on forests for their livelihoods

by
John Vidal

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil. (Photograph: Ricardo Beliel/Alamy)

A proposal for a giant global fund to pay the owners of the world's
forests not to cut them down has received a guarded welcome from
environmental groups. They warn of the risks of giving rich nations a
cheaper alternative to cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions and
to the human rights of the tens of millions of people who live in or
who depend on forests for their livelihoods.

The independent report, revealed by the Guardian,
was written for the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and states that an
international carbon market could prevent the deforestation that is a
major contributor to climate change and inject much needed funds into
poor countries.

The report calls for an international agreement
to halve the carbon dioxide released through deforestation by 2020. It
acknowledges this will be costly but estimates such action could be
worth $3.7tr (£2.1tr) to the world's nations in net benefits over the
long term. If nothing is done to slow rampant deforestation, the report
states, the resulting climate change will cause impacts costing
governments nearly $1tr a year by 2100.

The report was written by Johan Eliasch,
a businessman appointed by Brown to be his special adviser on forests.
Deforestation is responsible for at least 17% of global greenhouse gas
emissions, and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest
ways of cutting emissions.

The report recommends that forests
be included in the emerging global carbon market. By giving standing
trees a carbon value, it says, "the cost of halving global carbon
emissions could be reduced by up to 50% in 2030".

The Eliasch
review acknowledges it could take at least five years before the global
carbon market is operating and that not all countries would currently
agree to such a system.

It notes that countries that would
benefit from international payments to protect their forests should be
required to comply with international agreements that require them to
respect human rights and to protect the environment.

The
countries that might benefit are some of the most politically volatile,
and - in many cases - corrupt in the world. It says that in the short
term the international community should pay up to $4bn to 40 forest
countries to help them reach acceptable standards of governance.

Environmentalists
welcomed the report as a sign of deforestation being taken seriously by
governments, and agree the issue must be tackled, but urge caution over
how it is done. "Sufficient and long-term funding is needed to act as
an incentive to protect forests," said Emily Brickell, climate and
forests officer for WWF-UK.

But
protecting the needs of people was also paramount, she said: "More than
one billion of the world's poorest people rely on forests for their
livelihoods, so any measures to reduce emissions from deforestation
must ensure that local communities enjoy continued access to, and
benefits from, forest resources."

Andy Tait, Greenpeace's head of
biodiversity, expressed concern over the effect the plan would have on
emissions in rich nations. "If Gordon Brown accepts these proposals he
will give a green light to companies to use forest protection abroad as
a cheap alternative to making the dramatic cuts in the industrial and
energy sectors that we need here in the UK. Allowing forests to become
a get-out-of-jail-free card for the big polluters would be extremely
bad news in the fight against climate change."

The reliability of the carbon market is also a key factor, said Simon Counsell, director of the Rainforest Foundation UK:
"There is a serious danger of placing excessive hope in what might be
very unreliable and speculative forest protection carbon credits.

"Avoided
deforestation carbon credits might well turn out to be sub-prime, as
weak tropical country governments fail to deliver actual reductions in
deforestation, or as forests increasingly become susceptible to fire
and disease because of the warming effects of climate change itself.
Trading off our own emissions against hoped-for reductions in
deforestation could be a catastrophic lose-lose strategy."

According to Friends of the Earth's
international climate campaigner Tom Picken, the plan does not address
the deeper causes of deforestation: "Financial packages are needed -
but we must also address the underlying causes, such as biofuels,
excessive meat consumption and industrial logging."

Under the
proposed scheme countries would be rewarded with carbon credits, which
could be exchanged for cash on the global market, for not cutting down
forests and for reforesting previously logged areas. While the
international community would monitor forest loss via satellite, it
would be left to national governments to decide how money earned would
be distributed and what measures would be needed to prevent illegal
logging.

The review says countries could tackle deforestation
in different ways. The most controversial would be to pay logging
companies not to fell trees, or subsistence farmers not to clear land.
In addition, countries could greatly increase their policing of forests
or could tax heavily anyone who clears forest.

But it accepts
that halting deforestation will be difficult. "Such delegation [of
responsibility] will involve significant costs ... which may be very
challenging for many forest nations in the short term. Demonstration
activities to test these approaches will be needed." It accepts there
are significant human rights and land-ownership risks.

"Risks
include increased state and outside expert control over forests,
support for anti-people conservation and land speculation", says the
report.

 

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