U.N. spotlight shines on efforts to reduce deforestation

Last night, in New York at Climate Week, I attended the UN Secretary General’s High Level Event on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). As I sat in the giant Economic and Social Council hall at the UN, watching heads of state preparing to speak, I couldn’t help but marvel how far forest issues have come in the climate treaty talks.

–Five years ago, at the 2004 Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when EDF and the Dutch government (which then held the rotating Presidency of the European Union), wanted to convene a quiet, off-the-record, informal round table on forests and climate change, the topic was considered to be so sensitive that the session was held in a hotel far outside of the conference center. Of the handful of governmental representatives who dared to attend, most took pains to make clear that they were not speaking in any official capacity, and did not want to be quoted. And most non-governmental campaigners seemed hesitant to be seen there.

–Today, the REDD event was opened by Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the President of the World Bank. Heads of state from Congo, Guyana, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Sweden on behalf of the European Union, and Australia, as well as ministers from Indonesia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Bolivia, Japan, Colombia, China, and Bangladesh all spoke on the record, with press in attendance. Heads of major non-governmental organizations proudly attended. The room was packed with hundreds of people. And the event and a series of conferences in the lead-up to it engaged leaders like Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner for her work with women in Africa planting trees, and indigenous leaders around the world.

–Five years ago, the idea of compensating nations that reduce deforestation emissions across-the-board was considered strange, controversial, highly charged. Today, bilateral programs, notably those of Norway and Australia, and forest carbon partnership programs of the World Bank, are plowing hundreds of millions of dollars into forest protection and capacity-building for participation in carbon markets that compensate communities for protecting forests.

–Five years ago, Government delegates from the United States and Australia decried climate science and disparaged the Kyoto Protocol. Yesterday at the UN President Obama profiled his administration’s initiatives to address climate change, and signaled his willingness to work with congressional leaders to get U.S. legislation enacted. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated that “forest carbon market mechanisms must be included in the Copenhagen agreement, and said that the forest carbon issue “must be taken from the margins to the center of what we do.”

–Five years ago, developing countries, including China and Brazil, insisted that they would not act before the United States did, and the conventional wisdom was that Brazil would not make any commitment to reducing emissions for some 50 years or more. Yet today developing countries led the high level session, pledging to reduce emissions from deforestation and ramp up forest protection provided that the financing is made available. Yesterday in the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced China will endeavor to increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares and forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 from the 2005 levels. And President Lula of Brazil earlier announced Brazil’s effort to seek to reduce deforestation 70% from today’s levels over the next decade. Since deforestation emissions account for well over half of Brazil’s national emissions, that constitutes a major step. Now the biggest Amazon states have taken deforestation reduction targets too. Next week Amazon and Indonesian governors will be meeting with Governor Schwarzenegger in California to determine how to move forward with REDD in US and tropical states.

REDD’s gone from the footlights to the spotlight in five years. REDD is unlocking the stalemate between north and south. And as Japan’s Minister of Environment, Sakihito Ozawa, made clear at the High Level Event, because it is one of the most urgent and most cost-effective strategies, REDD has the potential to unlock steeper commitments from industrialized nations. Now the challenge is, as Prime Minister Rudd stated, to take it from the margins to the center of what we do.

Here in the United States, the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House of Representatives on June 26, 2009, embraces a set of provisions that could do just that. The principles behind these provisions have the support of a wide range of companies and NGOs, from American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Starbucks, Shell, and Walt Disney, to EDF, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Conservation International, among others.
We encourage the President to work with the Senate to make sure these same provisions make it into the bill that passes the Senate floor – preferably before the Copenhagen climate summit this December.

This entry was posted in Deforestation. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

One Trackback

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.