Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Plans to protect forests could do the opposite, warns Friends of the Earth

Plans to protect forests could do the opposite, warns Friends of the Earth

• Alarm sounded in run-up to UN climate change talks• Corruption and threat to indigenous people feared

Alok Jha
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 25 2008 00.01 GMT

International proposals to protect forests as a way of tackling climate change could displace millions of indigenous people and fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists warn.

In a report to be published on Thursday, Friends of the Earth International (FOE) will argue that current plans to slow the decline of forests by making rich countries pay for the protection of forests in tropical regions are not fit for purpose, as they are open to abuse by corrupt politicians or illegal logging companies in the parts of the world where the money will end up.

Forests lock up a significant amount of carbon and cutting them down is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, currently accounting for around 20% of the world's total.

Deforestation also threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of more than 60 million indigenous people who are entirely dependent upon forests.

Working out a way to protect forests will be one of the key issues for next week's UN climate change summit in Poznan, Poland, which marks the start of global negotiations to replace the Kyoto protocol after 2012.

Government representatives at the meeting will consider adopting the "Redd" mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries, which is based on the idea that richer countries could offset their emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions.

The idea has some of its roots in the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern, who said £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent deforestation across the eight most important countries. But Stern argued that for such a scheme to work institutional and policy reforms would be required in many states with protected forests, such as Indonesia, Cameroon or Papua New Guinea.

In principle FOE agrees that forests could be included in climate change targets, but argues that in its current form Redd is fraught with problems. The group says the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to profit from forests, rather than stop climate change.

"It refocuses us on to the question, who do forests belong to?" said Joseph Zacune, a climate and energy coordinator at FOE. "In the absence of secure land rights indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities have no guarantees that they'll benefit from Redd. There's increased likelihood of state and corporate control of their land, especially if the value of forests rises."

At the climate talks next week FOE plans to lobby for forests to be kept out of carbon markets, and for land rights to be enforced as the basis of any future forest policy. "We want some kind of mechanism to stop deforestation," said Zacune. "If there was to be agreement it would have to be developed through a joint process with other forest conventions and human-rights instruments, like the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples."

Another problem is that, under Redd, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a forest: the UN includes single-species plantations such as those for palm oil or other agriculture, which are often grown in areas cleared of virgin rainforests. "Even at their best, they store 20% of the carbon that intact forests do," said Zacune. "This means designing forest policies to match the amount of trees cut down due to the expansion of plantations."

FOE's conclusions echo those of the Rights and Resources Initiative, an international coalition of global NGOs which argued that the rush to protect forests could have unintended consequences.

In two reports published in July the RRI warned that the money aimed at protecting trees might end up in the hands of central government officials in areas of the world where they were closely tied to illegal logging and mining activities.

"It is widely acknowledged that poor governance and corruption also need to be addressed if deforestation is to be stopped," said the FOE report. "The question is whether Redd can address these issues, and how it links to existing established processes intended to deal with illegal deforestation (which includes illegal logging and illegal forest conversion to agriculture). Furthermore, would the use of a Redd fund rather than carbon markets improve governments' ability to reign in such illegal activities?"

To counter such problems, Zacune said, the best way to manage forests was to devolve responsibility to locals - an idea proposed by the Pacific nation Tuvalu. "The idea is that they would provide incentives for protecting and retaining their forests. It's the communities and indigenous people who have managed the forests for generations that should be in control of the forest."

Zacune also warned that protecting forests should not become a way for rich countries to pay their way out of reducing emissions. "We need to tackle consumption of agrofuels, meat and timber products which drive deforestation."

Tony Juniper, a sustainability adviser to the Prince of Wales' Rainforests Project, said: "The market is one approach among several possible funding mechanisms. For example, major finance could be mobilised via the auctioning of pollution credits under the EU's emissions trading scheme, or taxes on aviation fuel."

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said forest carbon trading was a useful way to pump money into deprived forest communities: "Deforestation threatens the rights of millions who depend on forests. The carbon market is a likely source of finance for reducing deforestation and we want to work with like-minded countries to achieve the deepest deal possible."