True crime is jeopardizing the future of the Amazon, but indigenous groups and Brazil’s police are fighting back – together

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Indigenous groups and law enforcement in Brazil are working together to reduce illegal mining and logging in the Amazon. About 80% of Amazon timber is produced through illegal extraction, which degrades biodiversity and carbon stocks. Photo: © Brasil2 / istockphoto.com

A new operation against land grabbers and illegal loggers in Brazil’s state of Pará is showing how collaboration between indigenous and forest communities and law enforcement can take on the biggest ongoing threats to the Amazon forest: illegal logging and illegal deforestation for land grabbing.

Launched June 30th, the operation started with an investigation two years ago after leaders from the Kayapô indigenous group reported clandestine deforestation on the western border of their territory to the Brazilian federal environmental enforcement agency, IBAMA. 

Guided by the Indians, IBAMA agents discovered encampments of workers who were clearing the forest in the indigenous territory and on adjacent public land, while leaving the tallest trees; this hid the illegal deforestation from satellite monitoring. The workers, who according to police labored under semi-slave conditions, would then burn the understory and plant pasture grass. Meanwhile, another part of the gang surveyed and forged land registry documents to sell the land. IBAMA agents shut down the camps, detained personnel and issued fines – and brought in the Prosecutor's Office and Federal Police to investigate.

We can protect the Amazon from degradation and deforestation. Both problems have the same solution.

That investigation led to an impressive 24 arrest warrants, nine subpoenas, and 18 orders for search and seizure, in five states, in what Federal Police, Prosecutor’s Office, Internal Revenue Service and IBAMA call the biggest illegal deforestation and landgrabbing mafia in the Amazon. Several of the gang’s leaders have already been imprisoned and face tens of millions of dollars in fines – as well as, potentially, stiff jail sentences.

The gang’s operation shows how the illegal value chains work.

First, the operators deploy semi-slave labor to invade reserves or occupy public land not designated for any particular use. They extract the highest-value hardwoods, then slash and burn the forest, and plant pasture. Meanwhile higher-up gang members draw up fraudulent documentation and sell the land to investors. The bosses of this high-tech organized crime enterprise run the “ranches,” coordinate a marketing group, hire surveyors and remote sensing specialists, and use family networks to launder illegal revenue. Prosecutors estimate that the group had revenues of almost $600 million between 2012—2015.

Organized criminal enterprises like this one are behind most if not all of the high-value illegal activities in the Amazon frontier zone – illegal logging, use of semi-slave labor, illegal deforestation for land grabbing and fraudulent sales, and tax evasion in the approximately 30% of the region under near-term threat of destruction or degradation.

Taking down a gang like the western Pará outfit is better than a two-for-one deal.

Operation Flying Rivers

The now-formalized program that just launched – a joint effort of Brazil’s Federal Police and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office – is called “Operation Flying Rivers,” after the huge quantities of water vapor the Amazon forest releases into the air, responsible for rainfall regimes as far away as California, which by some estimates approximates the volume of water flowing in the Amazon river.

The program is a good example of how effective collaboration between local forest communities and government authorities can be. And “Flying Rivers” goes way beyond stopping a particular invasion here, or apprehending some timber there; it aims to take apart the command structure of an entire criminal enterprise with multiple illegal value chains extending over much of western Pará.

This kind of persistent, integrated, multi-agency, enforcement campaign is central to addressing the real causes of continuing illegal deforestation and forest degradation, as well as land fraud – and critical to establishing the forest governance needed for long-term sustainable use of forests, including at-scale economic incentives for stopping legal deforestation and finance for eliminating illegal forest clearing through carbon markets and other sources.

Deforestation in Brazil

Brazil has made huge progress in reducing deforestation – but momentum has stalled. Since 2011, deforestation has been hovering around 5,000 km²/yr – not heading for zero, as an increasingly solid scientific consensus advises. This is way less than the 19,500 km²/yr average from 1996—2005, but still much too much. And, in lawless frontier regions, like southwestern Pará, illegal logging is degrading biodiversity and carbon stocks over vast areas.

It is generally held that about 80% of Amazon timber is illegally extracted, with the lion’s share sold in Brazil. That is about the same proportion of the Amazon’s current deforestation estimated to be illegal.

But you only have to look at the satellite photos to see why indigenous territories and other kinds of protected forest areas have been so important to Brazil’s success in reducing Amazon deforestation over 70% in the last decade, making it the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

Kayapô, Panará indigenous territories and Xingu Indigenous Park (dark green), with fires and smoke plumes on their borders. Indigenous territories and protected areas are effective barriers to deforestation and fires.

Kayapô, Panará indigenous territories and Xingu Indigenous Park (dark green), with fires and smoke plumes on their borders. Indigenous territories and protected areas are effective barriers to deforestation and fires. Photo: NOAA satellite.

EDF’s partners in the Xingu River basin – indigenous and traditional forest communities, including the Kayapô and 17 other indigenous peoples – monitor and defend a continuous area of protected forest more than twice the size of New York state. They have mobilized a lot of successful enforcement operations to stop illegal logging and land grabbing, including the “Flying Rivers” program.

This is why the law enforcement operation launched in Pará is so important and promising.

We can look at it as a version of “bad money drives out good” – no legitimate forestry or agricultural enterprise can compete with unrestrained organized crime. “Flying Rivers” is an excellent example of what’s needed to level the playing field. We can protect the Amazon both from degradation and from deforestation. Both problems have the same solution.

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A bright spot amid Brexit? Growing momentum for global climate action.

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A new era of climate leadership: Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. announced major joint commitments on climate and clean energy on June 29, 2016. Image Source: Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Last week’s vote by the British to leave the European Union has triggered a crisis in political leadership, thrown financial markets into turmoil and prompted eulogies for the European project – even as the ultimate consequences of the vote remain uncertain.

Against that backdrop, a bit of good news may be welcome. And it comes from an unlikely quarter: climate action.

That may sound surprising at first since climate change was hardly a high-profile issue in the Brexit campaign. Voting on the referendum reflected concerns about inequality, immigration, globalization, multiculturalism and an out-of-touch political elite.

Even so, the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure has raised concerns about impacts on climate and energy policy, including possible delays in finalizing the EU’s 2030 emissions target.

But whatever the implications may be for Britain and the EU, one thing is clear: Brexit can’t derail the overwhelming global momentum on climate action that produced the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement: Strength in numbers

A British exit from the EU would not have any effect on the formal architecture of the agreement, which was approved last December by more than 190 countries and has been signed by 177 – including each of the EU member states.

Given that overwhelming support, the agreement may very well enter into force this year – something that will happen once at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions formally join the agreement.

To date, 50 countries representing more than 53 percent of global emissions have formally joined or committed to join the agreement this year — closing in on the threshold of 55 countries and 55 percent of emissions needed for the agreement to enter into force. As a result, the agreement may well enter into force as soon as this year, even without the EU (which was not expected to join the agreement this year in any case).

This signals a remarkable shift. A decade ago, Europe was the world’s indispensable leader on climate action – and even temporary uncertainty about the pace of progress in the EU would have had repercussions around the globe.

The Paris Agreement, however, was the culmination of a paradigm shift away from a model of “top-down” climate action concentrated in a handful of countries, and toward more a more decentralized and inclusive approach.

As climate action has become much more broad-based, it has also become more resilient.

Climate leadership beyond the EU

That is not to say that leadership on climate from both the U.K. and the EU is not vital; it is, and will continue to be. Taken as a whole, Europe is still the world’s third-largest emitter. It remains a powerful and valuable voice for ambition.

Fortunately, political support for climate action in the region remains high, with 60 percent of Europeans saying global warming is already harming people around the world.

But we are long past the days when climate progress depended on one bloc of countries. Just consider this:

  • The leaders of the three North American countries met today to announce greater cooperation on climate change – including major new commitments on clean energy and on methane emissions from oil and gas.
  • Under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is now a global leader on climate action, with U.S. emissions in 2014 at 9 percent below their 2005 level, and an ambitious target of reducing emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025, relative to 2005.
  • President Xi Jinping of China has made tackling climate change a priority, with a commitment to ratify the Paris Agreement this year, a pledge to peak China’s emissions by 2030, if not before; and a plan to institute a nationwide emission trading program as early as next year.
  • The unprecedented bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and China, culminating in the joint announcements on climate change made by Presidents Xi and Obama in November 2014 and again in September 2015, were a crucial step in laying the foundation for success in Paris.
  • Brazil – although currently engulfed in political turmoil of its own – has reduced emissions over the past decade more than any other country, thanks to the enormous success of its Amazon states in curbing tropical deforestation.
  • India, where the moral imperative of poverty alleviation remains paramount, is committing to renewable energy and experimenting with new models of low-carbon development.

Other factors driving momentum

Underlying these country-level shifts are more fundamental drivers. The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly more visible, in record temperatures and extreme weather events.

A clean energy revolution is underway: Wind power is competitive with coal in much of the world even without subsidies, the cost of solar panels has dropped 75 percent in less than a decade and new technologies for how we use and store energy more efficiently are transforming markets.

Meanwhile, leading companies are stepping up by reducing their carbon footprints, greening their supply chains and calling for policies such as a price on carbon.

In short, leaders around the world have come to the realization that the path to shared global prosperity is a low-carbon path.

That makes the politics of climate action more resilient now than they ever have been before. And that is good news to keep in mind in these uncertain days.

This post originally appeared June 29 on EDF Voices.

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Brazil’s impeachment crisis puts its climate commitments at risk, threatening a major blow to global climate progress

The corruption and political crisis in Brazil could threaten global progress on climate change — but there are reasons for optimism. Above: Demonstration in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. Image Source: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

This post originally appeared on Grist.org. By André Guimarães, executive director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), and Stephan Schwartzman, senior director of tropical forest policy at the Environmental Defense Fund.

It may be hard to recall amid all the bad news coming from Brazil these days — the country’s worst recession in 30 years, its unprecedented corruption crisis, and above all the May 12 Senate vote to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial against her — but this country has in recent years occupied a position of critical global leadership on climate change. Brazil is the world’s biggest reducer of greenhouse gas emissions, having slashed Amazon deforestation about 80 percent over the last decade. Brazil also contributed to the success of the Paris climate agreement last December by adopting an absolute, economy-wide emission-reduction commitment — one far more ambitious than those put forward by most developing countries.

The current crisis puts these commitments at risk, threatening a major blow to global climate progress.

Cutting and burning down trees accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation in the Amazon has ripple effects on weather patterns around the world, including rainfall as far away as California. While Brazil deserves credit for large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, progress has stalled in recent years. Since 2011, deforestation has been oscillating around 1,900 square miles a year rather than continuing toward zero — the goal an increasingly solid scientific consensus says is needed to guard against the risk of forest dieback. Inadequate government investment and a lack of positive incentives for forest protection are largely to blame.

The government is unlikely to allocate these needed resources during the circus of impeachment, which could last up to six months. Furthermore, for Brazil’s international climate commitments to come into force, Congress needs to make them into law — also unlikely to happen soon.

Yet we also see reasons for optimism amid the chaos and corruption.

Continue reading on Grist.org: Brazil’s impeachment crisis is bad news for climate change.

In Portuguese:  Impeachment, o ponto da virada

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California carbon market's latest auction results show continued resilience

Source: Wiki

May 2016 auction results show an ongoing lawsuit challenging California's cap-and-trade program’s allowance auctions is likely impacting market dynamics, but the market is proving resilient. Image Source: Wikipedia

The results of California and Quebec’s latest carbon auction show that an ongoing lawsuit challenging the cap-and-trade program’s allowance auctions is likely impacting market dynamics, but that California’s market is proving resilient, in part due to the strength of its design.

The May 18 auction, the second of 2016, offered 67,675,951 current vintage allowances (available for 2016 compliance) and sold only 7,260,000. Just under one million of the just over ten million future vintage allowances (available for use in 2019 and after) were sold. The unsold California state allowances will go back to the auction holding account and will not be available for sale until the auction clears above the floor price for two consecutive auctions, a critical regulatory feature that removes unexpected, excess supply from the market and provides further price support. Utility allowances that were consigned to auction and did not sell will be offered again for sale at the next auction.

Increased attention to the litigation brought by the California Chamber of Commerce and the Morning Star Packing Co. et al., as well as higher participation in the secondary market, caused lower demand for allowances in the May auction. Secondary market prices have traded as low as 44 cents below the floor price in the last couple of months. But the real story is the positive and stabilizing impact of the floor price itself.

Other markets without such a strong floor price have seen price drops that are much more dramatic when the market receives a disturbance. But in California, the volume of trades on the secondary market has been higher than usual, showing that some entities are taking the opportunity to buy allowances at a discount.

It's worth noting that these results in no way impact the overall performance of California's program, which will continue to incentivize carbon pollution reductions.

EDF’s take on the litigation of the cap-and-trade auction program’s legality

At this critical juncture, opponents continue to litigate and challenge carbon auctions, an integral component of the cap-and-trade program that promotes equity and a healthy carbon market.

We are confident, however, that California courts will ultimately confirm the Legislature’s broad grant of authority to the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to design effective programs to address the imminent threat of climate change, and will reject the claim that auctioning valuable, marketable emission allowance constitutes an unconstitutional “tax.”

In supplemental briefings submitted May 23 to the California court, ARB argued persuasively that, even if the intermediate appellate court were to find a legal flaw in the auction, there would be no valid legal justification for disrupting the cap-and-trade program including its auction components while the state Supreme Court considers the case or ARB develops a suitable solution. This outcome is well-grounded in legal precedent affirming courts’ obligation to avoid remedies that imperil public health and welfare or cause needless disruption to public and private interests that rely on the current status quo.

California’s ability to continue utilizing a cap-and-trade program designed to meet its needs through 2020 and beyond is essential to California and to global climate momentum.

While EDF has a high degree of confidence that the lower court decision rejecting the challengers’ claims will be upheld, even if it is not, settled judicial procedures should help to ensure that the environmentally and economically important cap-and-trade program continues with minimal disruption.

California’s ability to continue utilizing a cap-and-trade program that is designed to best meet the state’s needs through 2020 and beyond is essential not just to California itself, but also to global climate momentum.

We’re at a watershed moment for climate action, and California is at the forefront. The U.S., China, and 173 other countries signed the Paris Agreement last month, and a group of leaders convened by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund expressed a goal of moving from 12% to 50% of global carbon emissions covered by carbon pricing by 2030. All the while, California is providing one of the most successful examples of economy-wide carbon pricing that is reducing emissions and promoting equity while the state’s economy is thriving.

There is every reason for confidence both in the legality of CARB’s choice to auction allowances and in the commitment of California’s leaders to deliver on California’s climate goals. We expect that a resilient cap-and-trade program will remain at the heart of the state’s increasingly ambitious and effective climate strategy long into the future.

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How a Coalition of Carbon Markets Can Complement the Paris Agreement and Accelerate Deep Reductions in Climate Pollution

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International cooperation is essential to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal of keeping warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. While the Paris Agreement provides several market- and transparency-related tools that can help spur international cooperation, countries must now create the coalitions needed to move forward with implementation. Image Source: Jorge Royan

As countries gather here in Bonn, Germany to begin the work of translating the historic Paris Agreement into action, there is widespread recognition that individual countries’ carbon-cutting pledges must be strengthened in the coming years to deliver the ambitious long term goal agreed in Paris: keep warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and achieve global net zero emissions before 2100.

The Paris Agreement provides several market- and transparency-related tools that can help spur the international cooperation necessary to achieve its long term goal, including provisions that facilitate high-integrity, “bottom-up” linkages of domestic carbon markets to cut carbon pollution. These linkages (described in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement as “cooperative approaches”) promise to reduce costs, and unlock the finance needed to drive deeper global emissions reductions. The agreement on cooperative approaches in Paris reflects the widespread recognition among nations that carbon markets, accompanied by a clear, comprehensive transparency framework, will help drive the deep emissions reductions needed to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change.

With the urgency of climate action clear, the key challenge now becomes: how can we accelerate the international cooperation needed to solve the Paris equation?

One concrete step, drawing on the cooperative approaches provisions of the Paris Agreement, would be to establish a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions to catalyze the development and increase the ambition of domestic carbon markets.   Much as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) helped broaden participation and ambition in trade, a voluntary coalition of carbon market jurisdictions (CCM) could expand the scope and maximize the cost-effectiveness of ambitious climate action around the globe.

Why coordinate on carbon markets?

As carbon markets continue to expand, coordination among jurisdictions using or considering carbon markets – especially on the rules and standards needed to ensure environmental integrity and maximize cost-effectiveness – will give governments and the private sector the confidence to go faster and farther in reducing their climate-warming pollution.

A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.

Although the Paris Agreement provides a framework for international cooperation on carbon markets, it is ultimately up to countries to work together to agree the detailed rules necessary for international carbon markets to drive emissions down and investment up.

The good news is that groups of countries can make substantial, early progress, ultimately informing and complementing the longer-term UNFCCC process.

 

“Minilateral” efforts can stimulate faster, deeper emissions cuts and strengthen international cooperation

Rapid and early emissions cuts are the single most important determinant of whether the global community is likely to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). And delaying necessary action to reduce global warming pollution dramatically increases costs to the global economy.

For both the climate and our economies, not all emissions reductions are the same:  the earlier, the better.

That’s why it is so important that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement affirmed that cooperative emissions trading between countries can continue and expand while multilateral accounting guidelines are developed. Transactions will need to be “consistent with” any multilateral guidance developed by Parties to the Paris Agreement over the coming years – particularly to ensure that the same emission reductions are not claimed toward more than one mitigation pledge (“double counted”).

A “minilateral” coalition of carbon markets could complement efforts under the UNFCCC by fostering agreement on detailed standards for the accounting, transparency, and environmental integrity of internationally transferred emissions units. These “nuts and bolts” standards, which will help avoid errors in tallying up total emissions and traded units, form the bedrock of high-integrity emissions trading. Early agreement would give countries the confidence to move forward quickly in implementing their Paris pledges and a basis for increasing their ambition over time.

Practically speaking, future UNFCCC guidance on cooperative approaches will likely be influenced by working examples of international emissions trading, making the success of a carbon markets coalition an important precedent for broader cooperation on markets in the UNFCCC. This process could mirror recent progress on standards for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), where technical advances made by countries in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility contributed to greater progress in the UNFCCC.

What’s next?

In Paris, a diverse group of 18 developed and developing countries led by New Zealand announced that they will work quickly together to develop standards and guidelines to ensure the environmental integrity of international market mechanisms.

This group – or another similar coalition – could “set the bar” for market-based climate action by developing robust accounting and transparency standards for environmental and market integrity. Coordinated leadership by forward-looking jurisdictions would help ensure that the growth of international emissions trading is accompanied by enhanced ambition and real, permanent, additional, and verifiable emissions reductions.

Over a longer period, these same guidelines could support the establishment of a common trading framework among a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions. A framework might include mutual recognition of emission units, harmonized approaches to verifying emissions reductions and generating offset credits, and a shared trading infrastructure, which together could ensure environmental integrity and encourage more countries, states, and provinces to cap and price carbon.

Paris began a new, more ambitious chapter in the history of climate action, but much of the chapter is yet to be written. We’re in the race of our lives to finish the work of protecting future generations and building prosperous low-carbon economies. A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.

Posted in Emissions trading & markets, Paris| Leave a comment

Can airlines help reduce deforestation?

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The global airline industry could become an ally in combating deforestation, as countries are set to vote at the September 2016 meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on whether airlines can use REDD+ credits to offset their emissions. Image Source: Flickr, Marinelson Almeida

A window of opportunity may be opening to secure sustainable financing – from an unusual source – to support national, state, and provincial-level efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).

The global airline industry is seeking international agreement on a program to cap the carbon dioxide emissions of flights between countries, and let airlines use a Market-Based Measure (MBM) to offset emissions above the cap. When the 191 governments that comprise the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) vote on the MBM at the end of September, that may decide whether airlines can use REDD+ to offset their emissions above 2020 levels.

Why does ICAO need REDD+?

In 2013, ICAO member states adopted a goal of “carbon neutral growth from 2020” – i.e., capping the net emissions of international flights at 2020 levels. International aviation’s emissions, however, are forecasted to rise dramatically, as tens of thousands of new large aircraft take to the skies in coming decades.

Even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency, the sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes (or 7.8 Gt CO2) over the period of 2020-2040. National and jurisdictional level REDD+ projects that meet the environmental and social safeguards agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are anticipated to be able to supply offsets enabling aviation to cover a significant portion of the expected gap, even while ensuring that these reductions are not also claimed against national emission reduction commitments.

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The international aviation sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes over the period of 2020-2040 between their goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and their projected emissions – even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency. Image source: Flightpath 1.5

Getting the right REDD+ into ICAO: REDD+ programs that meet UNFCCC requirements

The December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC, gave special recognition to the key role that REDD+ can play in mitigating climate change.

The Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC’s 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, and related UNFCCC Decisions provide that REDD+ programs must be created at national, or – temporarily – subnational (e.g. state and province) level. This is important because national and subnational REDD+ programs (collectively known as jurisdictional REDD+ or “JREDD+” programs) can create and enforce policies to address deforestation at a large scale.

For example, without jurisdictional REDD+, there’s a risk that forest protection in one project area could displace deforestation to other areas; this is avoided when REDD+ projects are “nested” in a national or jurisdictional-level program. According to guidance by the UNFCCC, JREDD+ programs’ results must be recognized by national REDD+ Focal Points and submitted to the REDD Information hub in order to ensure that emissions reductions are not claimed more than once.

ICAO’s timeline

In March and April, ICAO convened a set of regional dialogues to give governments, industry, and civil society stakeholders the opportunity to discuss MBM design options and potential sources of offsets. ICAO will convene a high-level ministerial meeting May 11-13 at ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, to review a draft text. Additional meetings will be held throughout the summer and the final, and most important ICAO Assembly, where the MBM will be finalized, is to be held in Montreal from 27 September to 7 October 2016.

Seizing the opportunity

REDD+ countries interested in sustainable financing for their national and jurisdictional REDD+ programs should be aware of the potential for a new ICAO market based mechanism to provide such financing. In order to seize this opportunity, REDD+ policy makers and aviation counterparts need to collaborate to ensure an ICAO market based mechanism inclusive of REDD+ and with environmental integrity.

Posted in Aviation, Deforestation, REDD+| Leave a comment
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