Even as efforts to reach an overall deal to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions were foundering in Copenhagen this past week, hopes were high that negotiators would forge an agreement on protecting forests. Although it didn’t receive as much attention as the main event, it was an important effort, since deforestation and related changes are estimated to contribute up to 20 percent of humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Of course, there are many other reasons to protect forests as well. Tropical forests in particular are storehouses of biodiversity. They once covered 15 to 20 percent of the Earth’s surface, but they are now down to just 7 percent. Even so, the remaining forests are estimated to contain about half of all species of life on Earth. Moreover, tropical forests provide a host of “ecosystem services,” such as a buffer against erosion, and maintenance of water cycles that millions of humans depend on. (For more information, see this excellent overview.)
So there were many reasons to hope for a side agreement in Copenhagen on protecting tropical forests. But as the talks collapsed on Saturday, a plan to do just that was shelved.
From an Associated Press dispatch:
Delegates scrapped plans for a comprehensive climate agreement that would have included the deal to pay poor countries to protect their forests. The program is known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.
Much of the world’s deforestation is occurring in the developing world, where cutting down and burning forests often yields more profits than managing them in an environmentally sustainable way that can also provide economic benefits for forest-dwelling peoples. REDD is seen as a way to rewrite that equation. It consists of a variety of activities, but rewarding stewardship and sustainability of forests with financial incentives is at the core of the approach.
Many experts feel it has a lot of promise. For example, a report of a European research initiative called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” found that “for the annual investment of US$ 45 billion – around a sixth of that needed to conserve all ecosystem services worldwide – we could protect natural services worth some US$ 5 trillion in protected areas.”
The collapse of the overall Copenhagen talks seems to have taken a REDD accord down with it. Even so, the approach may not be dead.
Quoted in an AP story, Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, struck a faintly optimistic note:
The failure to conclude a comprehensive agreement on forests is disappointing . . . But if developed countries can deliver the $100 billion per year aimed for in the broader Copenhagen Accord, there is little doubt that a large part of that will go to help preserve forests.”
For now, though, it is business as usual.