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Forests Comprise Large Part of Climate Solution But Receive Meagre Investment

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By Fabiola Ortiz

OSLO (IDN) – It has been a decade now that the mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – known as REDD+ – has been included in climate negotiations, however investments have not been sufficient for bringing them down.

“Even though science tells us that forests represent thirty percent of the solution to climate change in terms of the mitigation potential of greenhouse gas emission, we are only spending less than two percent of climate finance on forest,” according to senior fellow Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute (WRI). (P07) JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Seymour was among the 500 participants that gathered in Norway at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum (June 27-28) to debate the role forests play in achieving Paris Agreement goals to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.

Hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), the conference brought together representatives from science, politics, the private sector and civil society to discuss the need to protect, restore and manage standing forests as they account for an estimated 11 percent of annual CO2 emissions and have been increasingly under threat from the expansion of soy production, cattle ranching, palm oil plantation and wood products across the world.

“The only safe natural proven cost-effective technology we have for carbon capture and storage is forests. However, the disparity between the 30 percent of the forests being a solution and only two percent of the finance is a big problem,” warned Seymour.

Stopping deforestation and restoring forests could remove seven billion metric tons of carbon annually. It would be equal to eliminating 1.5 billion cars, more than all cars in the world today.

The recent report from Global Forest Watch released at the event indicates that there was a loss of a record-high 15.8 million hectares of tropical forest cover in 2017.

Noting that the clearing of forests has risen at a “catastrophic pace”, Norwegian Minister of Environment Ola Elvestuen called for more international cooperation and financing.

“No one questions the benefits of holding and reversing deforestation for sustainable development,” he stressed. “Stopping deforestation is about regulation, enforcement and incentives. If we have results based payments then the numbers will be completely different. We will continue to reward ambitious forest countries showing political will and results.”

The Paris Agreement placed REDD+ at the core of the commitments aimed at pursuing efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, the efforts are “far from enough,” said the Norwegian minister.

“Ten years ago, REDD+ was thought to mobilise tens of billions through carbon markets. That did not happen; the original idea of REDD+ has flaws,” Elvestuen complained.

Amazon Fund

The Amazon Fund, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, is considered a successful experience among the initiatives for curbing the clearing of forests. Being the largest tropical rainforest, the 6-8 million square kilometres Amazon forest houses one- tenth of the world’s biodiversity and 15 percent of its freshwater. Every year, the forest removes two billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

Launched in 2008 in Brazil, the Fund is a REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use of forest in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil alone is home to approximately 65 percent of the Amazon basin.

Since it was created, Norway has become the Fund’s major donor with 1.1 billion dollars. Between 2004 and 2017, Brazil was able to cut loss of this biome by 75 percent.

The South American country has pledged to eliminate its illegal forest loss by 2030 and restore 12 million hectares of forests.

However, since 2015, the deforestation rate in Brazil’s Amazon has increased to 27 percent and a recent report released by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon) warned that there has again been an increase in the figures from the previous year.

Elvestuen considers the Amazon Fund a “great success” but did not avoid pointing the finger at the recent rise in forest loss.

“If we look at the numbers of how deforestation has slowed in Brazil in those ten years, it has been definitely a success. Our payments have supported 96 indigenous territories with an area larger than Germany, they have protected a hundred national parks, and strengthened Brazil’s environmental police. We will continue to partner with countries with strong ambitions and willingness to help them go further,” said the Norwegian minister.

Climate scientist Carlos Nobre, one of the lead authors of the fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, warned that the Amazon is approaching to a turning point where irreversible changes in the biome might turn the exuberant tropical into a savannah.

“The fantastic role of tropical forests may not be guaranteed in the future,” said Nobre who has been researching the Amazon for over forty years. “We have few years left, less than a decade to turn deforestation rates down. We have to commit to major restoration of the global tropical forests. Science is telling us that we have to come up with a new sustainable development pathway for the global tropics.”

The Brazilian scientist warns that in order to keep the increase of temperature no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is necessary to restore around three million square km of tropical forests that would remove six to eight billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year.

“It is doable if we act collectively. We have to think of a third way of development: Innovation, science technology, and traditional knowledge tapping into the biodiversity. We have to develop a standing forest bio-economy, a biodiversity driven economy,” he explained.

During the Oslo Forum, Norway with Germany signed a 50 million dollar results-based REDD+ partnership with Ecuador to protect 13.6 million hectares of its rainforest.

In addition, the Norwegian Government announced a pledge of up to 15 million euros (17.5 million dollars) for a collaborative initiative of INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Norwegian Centre for Global Analyses to combat illegal deforestation.

Organised criminals make 50-152 billion dollars a year illegally cutting down tropical forests. The plundering of natural resources such as timber, charcoal and gold is worth 770 million dollars annually in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Indigenous Contribution

New findings also released in Oslo suggest that indigenous peoples and local communities protect climate resources for one-quarter the cost of public and private investments to conserve protected areas.

Indigenous peoples and local communities have customary rights to at least half of the world’s land, but legal ownership over just ten percent. Research has shown that legally recognised community forests store more carbon and experience lower rates of deforestation than forests under other tenure regimes.

Despite legal insecurity, local indigenous communities worldwide invest up to 4.5 billion dollars per year in conservation, as much as 23 percent of the amount spent on land and forest conservation by the formal environmental community, said the report.

The situation has become “very much more severe” for indigenous leaders and environmental defenders, complained Vitoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Human rights have become low on the agenda of the countries,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “Having visited a lot of countries where there are economic interests over the extraction of resources, the indigenous people are the ones suffering the most from impunity and criminalisation. It is a systemic problem.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 July 2018]

Image: Amazon forest landscape. Credit: Ecuador Government

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