Erik Solheim, Norway's Minister of the Environment and International Development, reflects on the progress made in efforts to reduce tropical deforestation…
Since the 13th round of climate change talks at Bali in 2007, the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+ in the terminology of the UN negotiations) has moved from laggard to leader in the international climate change negotiations. Major efforts have been carried out by the international community, donor countries and rainforest countries, providing a genuine reason to be both proud and optimistic.
Nonetheless, significant challenges remain. The economic drivers of deforestation are strong. Global demand for timber, palm oil, sugar, soy and beef, and the need to feed three billion more people by the middle of the century, will continue to yield pressure on the forests. The successful reduction of global deforestation rates will rest on our ability to offer significant incentives to actors making land-use decisions. Business-as-usual is not an option – the consequences would simply be too devastating.
First of all, the destruction of tropical forests could cause as much as one-sixth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. While there are uncertainties tied to precise numbers, it is clear that the 2°C target will be impossible to reach without significant reductions in tropical deforestation.
Secondly, forests constitute a safety net for some of the world's poorest people. One billion depend directly or indirectly on forests for their livelihoods. The Congo basin forests, the world's second largest rainforest with an estimated cover of 200 million hectares, provide food, shelter and livelihood for more than 50 million people. They also influence food security in Africa – large-scale deforestation in the Congo basin could affect agricultural production in large areas of Africa south of the Sahara.
Tropical forests contain half of the world's terrestrial species on only 7% of the world's surface area. Biodiversity is the natural capital for sustainable development. According to estimates in the The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report, the measurable cost of the loss of biodiversity is somewhere between €1.5-5trillion a year. In comparison, the total sum of all the financial packages approved by governments worldwide to mitigate the worst financial crisis of the last century was €3trillion per year. Recognising the value of nature to society must become a policy priority.
Today, 17,000 plant and animal species are endangered globally. Life's library is in flames, and make no mistake – extinction is forever. The loss of biodiversity in our age can be compared to previous mass extinctions, but this time human beings are the ones responsible. Moreover, degradation of ecosystems combined with climate change may lead to so-called 'tipping points' – points of no return. These are self-reinforcing mechanisms – for example, the release of massive amounts of methane as a result of the melting of the Siberian tundra – that could make negative developments spin out of human control altogether. According to Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, a loss of 20-30% in the Amazon combined with an average two degree rise in the temperature may lead to the collapse of the Amazon rainforest. In short, it is time the world's tropical forests were bailed out.
The good news is that, while challenging, the prospects of saving the world's remaining rainforests have never looked better. Significant progress has been made. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico in December 2010, the international community agreed on a framework to work collectively to slow, halt and reverse emissions from forests in developing countries. Although several details remain to be confirmed, this is a big step forward. The agreement also includes safeguards to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, stakeholder participation and biodiversity.
At the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan in October it was recognised by 192 countries and the EU that climate change will have a negative impact on biodiversity. It was decided that international efforts to reduce biodiversity loss and mitigate climate change should be more closely linked. Further to this, closer cooperation between the CBD secretariat and international bodies working with climate change should be established. Such a holistic approach to the environmental challenges is crucial for long-term success.
As many have pointed out, there are important risks involved with REDD+, but these must be addressed head on, given the disastrous consequences of a business-as-usual approach. Developing countries will have to improve forest governance to deliver lasting results in deforestation; groundbreaking levels of transparency will be required to verify the results qualifying for REDD+ finance; and financial mechanisms must be established that balance sovereignty over development spending priorities with the demonstrated application of high international safeguards standards.
A broad constituency of forest countries has emerged, eager to get REDD+ off the ground. The multilateral and bilateral initiatives, as well as a plethora of academic institutions and civil society organisations, are creating a global community to support REDD+ action. We are learning and sharing valuable lessons every day. All in all, developments are truly remarkable. Some developing countries – Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular – are leading the way. For instance, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was 70% lower in 2010 than between 1996 and 2005. This equates to 850 million tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Indonesia, the world's third largest emitter after the US and China, has committed to reducing emissions by 26% from their own funds and by 41% with international assistance. Almost 80% of the emissions in Indonesia come from deforestation and conversion of peat lands. If Indonesia succeeds by 2020, one billion tons of carbon emissions will have been saved, equalling as much as 7% of what is needed on a global basis to reach the two degree target. To support these remarkable efforts, Norway has pledged US$1bn in support to each country, to be paid based on verified results in reaching their goals.
Through the United Nations' REDD Programme and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility hosted by the World Bank, more than 40 countries receive financial and technical support, and are working to get ready to implement national REDD+ strategies. The Congo Basin Forest Fund, administered by the African Development Bank, is focusing on the particular needs of the Congo basin countries. Through these programmes and the Forest Investment Program, countries are already scaling up their efforts, and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility's Carbon Fund will become the first multilateral mechanism for paying developing countries for reduced forest emissions.
Tremendous progress has been made since Bali to prepare the world for a global mechanism to reduce tropical deforestation. An integrated multilateral architecture is being created that supports all committed forest countries in their 'readiness' efforts. National strategies are being prepared, and monitoring systems and institutional capacities built. Key countries are pushing rapidly ahead.
Now, adequate, predictable and sustainable medium and long-term funding is needed to deliver and reward large-scale verified results in reducing tropical deforestation. In Bali, the Government of Norway made the pledge to spend up to US$500m. Since then, more commitments for action and financing have been put on the table. Around US$4bn has been pledged for REDD+ before 2012, and a multitude of developing countries are willing to step up their efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. There is every reason to be optimistic. This is an area where we can, and where we already are, achieving significant results – even before a final international climate agreement is settled.
This article will appear in the forthcoming edition of Public Service Review: European Science and Technology in March 2011