A group of world leaders is calling for negotiators in Durban to move forward on a deal that they say would prevent massive deforestation and help substantially reduce carbon emissions.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon joined famed British anthropologist Jane Goodall at the COP 17 climate conference today to support a mechanism called REDD+ (also known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
They called it a “win-win” for reducing carbon emissions and preserving biodiversity.
The REDD+ mechanism, which is still being hashed out by negotiators this week, allows emitters to offset a portion of their emissions through forest preservation projects in developing countries. It’s one of the main agenda items in Durban actually getting traction.
Also joining the event to support REDD+ were Bill and Hillary Clinton, who spoke to a diverse crowd of diplomats, journalists and NGOs via separate recorded video messages.
“Clearing and burning of tropical rainforests is responsible for approximately 15% of global carbon emissions, but conserving forests is one of the most affordable ways to reduce pollution,” said Clinton in a brief address to a large crowd. “Help us fight one of the greatest threats in history.”
President Obama even made a recorded cameo at the event. He praised the work of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai, who established a tree-planting movement in the 1980’s in order to empower local communities and fight back against exploitation of Africa’s forests.
“Here in Durban, we can carry on her work, to … grow our economies in a way that’s sustainable and that addresses climate change. In this you have the partnership of the United States. Delegates must remember her call in which she said: ‘We must not tire. We must not give up.'”
An ironic statement, considering the criticisms against Obama for exactly that: limiting his talk about climate change in the U.S. in the face of a well-funded smear campaign against the science.
While delegates at this year’s climate conference are concerned about the lack of progress on internationally binding commitments, they haven’t given up yet. Yesterday saw some movement on the much-anticipated $100 billion Green Fund, with the U.S. indicating it would support the text. And the last week of negotiations have brought countries closer to agreeing to the framework for the REDD+ mechanism.
Like the Green Fund, REDD+ has broad support from international negotiators. But the details on how to fund it, how to administer it, and how to accurately monitor emissions are still being worked on.
A technical working group issued a draft decision this week that identifies how to track and report those emissions reductions. If the text is approved, it could put the international community closer to a framework on deforestation emissions – a problem that accounts for more carbon released into the atmosphere than the entire global automobile fleet.
The REDD+ program being debated is an extension of the Clean Development Mechanism established under the Kyoto Protocol, which allowed developed countries invest in forest conservation projects in order to reduce emissions. Jonathan Pershing, the deputy climate negotiator for the U.S., today praised the latest iteration of the program. But he also called it “nascent.”
Pershing said that deforestation offset programs are still evolving from something that simply focuses on “saving a tree” to something that “will protect the ecosystem.” That means addressing food security and creating economic opportunities that make it less attractive to slash and burn valuable forests.
“We agree with others that it’s an integrated problem,” said Pershing “You can’t isolate it without looking at agriculture and food requirements. You can’t just pick it out and say I’m going to save the tree and not the ecosystem. The history of climate protection has been that I’m going to protect the tree.”
While most of the world leaders at COP 17 are praising the development of this deforestation-prevention program, REDD is not without its harsh critics. Some environmental and indigenous groups have issued statements calling the program a hostile take-over of local land rights. Many groups are concerned that it would make forest lands a commodity to be exploited by outside interests, assuming it is eventually tied to a global carbon-trading mechanism.
But the technical group working here in Durban attempted to alleviate those concerns by establishing standards for reporting information on projects. These standards will make it easier to see details of transactions and determine if local land rights are being protected. The working group is also developing verification and reporting methods for transactions. But those won’t likely be completed here in Durban.
Although movement on REDD+ is slow, onlookers expect to come out of Durban with more clarity on how the mechanism will be formed. Meanwhile, world leaders continue their call for faster action:
“We need to have a COP decision on REDD,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “We need to support a climate friendly forest sector. And we need innovative policy and actions that can halt deforestation.”