Friday, 28 January 2011 15:01 GMT

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JOHANNESBURG, 28 January 2011 (IRIN) - Forests help sustain life on earth by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, and also provide a home to many communities that depend on them, yet they become one of the biggest sources of harmful carbon dioxide when they are destroyed. An imbalance in the perceived value of forests drives deforestation, which contributes between 12 percent and 20 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions - about the same as the transport sector, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Forest areas are often worth more harvested than left standing,” said Manish Bapna, managing director of the World Resources Institute (WRI), on the website of this US-based environmental think-tank. An estimated 400 million people live in or near forests and depend on them for a livelihood. Around 60 million are members of indigenous communities who depend entirely on forests, according to the UN Forum on Forests (UNFF), currently meeting in New York. In the past few years, conservationists have increasingly turned to REDD - “reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation” - a mechanism that seeks to address the imbalance by giving countries incentives to leave forests standing. REDD falls within the ambit of the global talks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The mechanism may not be “the” solution to deforestation, but it is “a solution, and potentially a very big one,” Roman Czebiniak, the senior political advisor on climate change and forests at Greenpeace, the environmental NGO, told IRIN. As governments thrash out a policy on how to govern forests at the UNFF meeting, IRIN takes a closer look at REDD. What are REDD and REDD+ ? REDD was a proposal put to the UNFCCC in 2005 by the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, including Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, that they would reduce their rates of deforestation and degradation in exchange for compensation. The proposal for a mechanism that would benefit rainforest nations if forest losses were kept below an established level, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, was accepted at the UNFCCC round of talks in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007. Compensation would take the form of credits for the carbon stored in the forests left standing, which could then be traded on international carbon markets, or converted into cash by using other mechanisms. Questions about the proposal have been the subject of negotiations at the UNFCCC for the past three years as countries worked to draw up a plan that will come into effect after 2012, when the commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol - the deal to reduce harmful gas emissions - ends. The Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) lists some of the main issues under discussion: - How can the carbon stored in forests be accurately measured so as to put a value on it? - Forest data in many countries is poor or non-existent - how can emission reductions be monitored, reported, and verified? - Who will make payment? - Who will receive payment - national governments, indigenous communities or logging companies? - How do we ensure transparency and accountability in these transactions? - How do we ensure that emission reductions are permanent and the forests remain standing? - Where will the money for the compensation come from - governments, donors or carbon markets? Civil society has also raised questions about safeguarding indigenous communities. “How do you ensure that REDD will not adversely impact the rights and livelihoods of the millions of people who live in or around forests, especially in poorly governed states?” asked WRI. Jeremy Rayner, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan Graduate School of Public Policy, noted that REDD “explicitly values carbon storage above the improvement of forest conditions and livelihoods.” Rayner also chairs the panel at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) that produced a new assessment of the global governance of forests. In the last round of UNFCCC talks, in 2010 in Cancun, Mexico, countries agreed to include an upgraded version of the emission reduction mechanism, REDD+, which tried to address some of these questions. REDD+ reaches beyond deforestation and forest degradation to include conservation, the sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks, according to the UN-REDD programme.  The updated version of the mechanism is not only about reducing emissions, it encompasses halting forest losses and reversing them, wrote Florence Daviet of WRI. It also encourages all countries - developed and developing - to find “effective ways to reduce human pressure on forests that result in greenhouse gas emissions”. REDD+ calls on each country to draw up a national plan, with a benchmark emission level, systems to monitor forests, and measures for safeguarding the rights of indigenous communities. Is it a done deal? Not yet. Alistair Graham of Humane Society International, an Australia-based environmental NGO, told IRIN that three main issues - markets, safeguards and goals - were still outstanding. Countries were split over a choice of three options: raising all the money through carbon markets, rejecting the markets, or a adopting a mix of both. The safeguards, such as the one protecting the rights of forest communities, were included only as “advice - they need to be [written] in as legally binding obligations, [but] whether this is a done deal or still outstanding is unclear,” said Graham. The statement of goals in REDD+ mentions “protecting carbon stocks”, but conservationists like Graham would rather see “protection of forests” placed at the heart of the deal. Greenpeace’s Czebiniak said his organization would like to see a new funding window for REDD become operational urgently, because it was the only immediate option for reducing emissions while the talks about global targets to reduce emissions dragged on. The IUFRO assessment noted that governments could not always influence the major drivers of deforestation, such as agriculture, so REDD negotiators should engage stakeholders outside the forest sector, including agriculture, transport, and energy. Discussions on the mechanism should move away from over-reliance on a "one-size-fits-all" global scheme to address situations that differed vastly from region to region and country to country. What is happening on the ground? There were several REDD processes in operation, including a UN initiative, called UN-REDD, that was trying to build capacity to implement the mechanism in pilot developing countries. Czebiniak said Greenpeace would like to see a more coordinated and efficient process get underway, which would also apply safeguards equally, “rather than the largely pilot activities”. He pointed out that “Many of the countries with tropical forests are developing countries; and it is difficult for their government and civil society members to effectively participate in so many competing institutional activities.” jk/he © IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis: