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Climate and forests      

Climate Change

Climate and Forests

The international community is negotiating a new global agreement to address climate change at the United Nations to take over from the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. Included in the negotiations is a mechanism which would give financial incentives to developing countries that protect their forests and reduce rates of deforestation and forest degradation.

When forests are cut down and burnt all the carbon dioxide they sequestered over hundreds of years is released back to the atmosphere. In the last 300 years the destruction of forests and other ecosystems is estimated to have released between 200 and 250 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere. In fact deforestation and forest degradation is responsible for a massive 18-25% of annual global carbon emissions, greater than all the world's cars, trucks and planes combined.

Of course, fewer forests remain to mop up all the excess carbon dioxide from deforestation, industrial and other sources. Hence, its no surprise that atmospheric carbon levels have already surpassed 350 ppm, the level scientists tell us we need to stabilize at to avoid dangerous climate change and a slew of species extinctions. We simply cannot avoid dangerous climate change unless we swiftly protect remaining forests and other carbon rich ecosystems and start to restore lost and degraded forests. Deep cuts in industrial emissions are also required and we must rapidly shift to low carbon economies.

Unless deforestation stops now in places like Sumatra and Borneo, we will lose species like the orangutan forever ' “ which, climate change aside, would be a tragedy all of its own.

In UN parlance the proposed mechanism is dubbed ' REDD'  which stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. It offers an unprecedented opportunity to finally generate the financial resources that are needed to tackle deforestation and save the biodiversity in the world' s remaining forests.

Humane Society International is very active briefing countries on the design of the REDD mechanism to ensure it will be as effective as possible at forest protection and restoration, while including safeguards for biodiversity conservation and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. To that end we are founding members of the Ecosystems Climate Alliance http://www.ecosystemsclimate.org which is an alliance of conservation groups campaigning at the UN to keep forests intact and their carbon out of the atmosphere.

Our concern is that a poorly designed REDD mechanism could have perverse results. For example, it is vital that REDD funds are prioritised towards preventing intact forests being opened up to new logging operations and towards restoring degraded forests. Whereas, many aspirants for REDD funding want to see it subsidise new logging operations in currently intact forests on the promise that they wont be as destructive as they might otherwise have been. That might be so, but such new logging operations will nevertheless degrade pristine forests and increase carbon emissions and should not be incentivised with REDD subsidies. It is also important that the definitions for forests are not manipulated to disguise degradation and deforestation and emissions ' “ for example by pretending palm oil plantations are forests when the truth is pristine forests are cleared and burnt to make way for them. See our poster campaign for definitions: Poster 1  Download (9 MB) / Poster 2 (Download 4 MB)

HSI has also been proud to contribute funds to mapping work to identify carbon and biodiversity hotspots where REDD funds should be prioritised that has been undertaken by the United Nations Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) www.carbon-biodiversity.net
. The maps will be of interest to developing countries and donors wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through avoided deforestation and maximise biodiversity protection at the same time.

Having been profoundly disappointed in Copenhagen in December 2009, it is now essential that an effective REDD mechanism be agreed at a UN meeting in Cancun in December 2010 and a new global climate agreement that also includes deep cuts in industrial emissions. This is a campaign priority for our organisation.

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