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Tackling deforestation is critical

[Mozambique] Timber headed for Beira (logging) [Date picture taken: 10/2006]
Logs from Mozambique's forrests headed for foreign markets (Tomas de Mul/IRIN)

Forests in Africa will continue to be decimated unless money is invested in renewable energy resources, warned officials at a UN meeting on climate change being hailed as a "forest conference".

"It is pointless to throw money on forestry projects in Africa," remarked Ogunlade Davidson, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "You would rather spend money on renewable energy projects in Africa," he told IRIN.

The meeting in Bali, to launch negotiations for a new agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions after 2012, has recognised the need to deal with deforestation to stem global warming. The agreement will replace the first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialised countries have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least five percent against a 1990 baseline.

"People often do not take into account the main driver of deforestation, which is very different in Africa, where it is the need for fuel wood," said Kevin Conrad, director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations at the Earth Institute of Columbia University. "Unless we address the driver of the problem first, I agree it is pointless throwing money into forestry projects."

Deforestation is responsible for 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year, amounting to one-fifth of the global total, and to more than the combined total contributed by the world's energy-intensive transport sectors, according to the Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

"Deforestation contributes almost as much to climate change as does US fossil fuel use," said Conrad. "Yet deforestation was specifically excluded from the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which failed to address this significant source of carbon emissions."

The Congo Basin, covering around 241 million hectares, is the world's second largest tropical forest, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "It spans across eleven Central African countries, namely Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe."

The annual deforestation rate in the Congo Basin is around 934,000ha, the FAO says, mainly as a result of land-use change to agriculture and the need for fuel wood. Logging and the collection of non-wood forest products add to the degradation of forest resources in the basin.

Need to tackle root cause

CIFOR cautioned in a new study released in Bali that the Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) initiative, now included in the new agreement, could be "imperilled by a routine failure to grasp the root causes of deforestation".

The idea of REDD was first mooted by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica in 2005 as a reward for preserving the forests. "Changing forest-use patterns in developing countries is at least as difficult as cutting industrial emissions in the developed world," Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, pointed out in his address to the conference.

Photo: Tomas de Mul/IRIN
Charcoal for sale. Fuelwood is a major contributor to deforestation

According to the FAO, forests are home to 300 million people, more than 1.6 billion people depend to varying degrees on forests for their livelihood, and about 60 million indigenous people are almost entirely dependent on forests.

"The danger is that policy-makers will fail to appreciate that forest destruction is caused by an incredibly wide variety of political, economic and other factors that originate outside the forestry sector, and require different solutions," said Frances Seymour, director-general of CIFOR.

Indirect forces like fluctuations in international commodity prices; agricultural and, more recently, biofuel subsidies; and roads and other infrastructure projects can encourage forest clearing, the CIFOR study noted. "Deeply ingrained and routinely corrupt government practices often favour large corporate interests over community rights to forest resources."

Finding the money

REDD acknowledged the need to fund the developing world's efforts to fight deforestation, but it was still unclear how this would be done, said Peter Frumhoff, main author of the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry, and Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US-based nonprofit advocacy group.

The initiative will look at several options in the next two years, including a market-based mechanism, but there are concerns. "In a market-related mechanism [to fund efforts to prevent deforestation in the Amazon rainforests] there is no guarantee of "how and when the money will come through," said a Brazilian official.

One of the options in the REDD programme is that countries fighting deforestation could be rewarded with carbon credits, which they could sell to rich countries to meet their emission targets.

Under the Clean Development Mechanism, one of three options offered by the Kyoto Protocol, the industrialised world can use carbon credits to reach their emission reduction targets.

Some environmentalists, like Marcelo Furtado of Greenpeace, have warned that rich countries could end up using the credits without actually reducing emissions within their own boundaries.

Others feel that because no value has been put on the price of carbon it would be difficult to ascertain how much money the developing world could earn for their forests. "But even ODA [Official Development Assistance] is not guaranteed, and which market is guaranteed - it all has to be tested," said Frumhoff.

The World Bank has announced a multimillion Forest Carbon Partnership Facility to provide funds to help developing countries build capacity and look at ways to incentivise emission reductions, to which Norway pledged US$5 million on 13 December, bringing the facility's resources to $165 million.

Protecting the rainforests of the Amazon basin, central Africa and southeast Asia is critical: not only are they carbon banks, but should they die as a result of increased temperature brought on by global warming, they could release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

"Trees in the Amazon region of Brazil alone store 49 billion tonnes of carbon; another 6 billion tonnes is stored in Indonesia's forests. As global temperatures rise, changing climate patterns could generate processes that will lead to the release of large amounts of carbon from these reservoirs," the UN Development Programme's Human Development Report 2007/2008 pointed out.

"Under a business-as-usual scenario, climate models forecast temperatures in most of the Amazon region rising by 4-6°C by 2100. This could convert up to 30 percent of the Amazon rain forest into a type of dry savannah, according to research carried out under the auspices of Brazil's National Space Research Institute. Such an outcome would in turn drive up net global emissions of carbon dioxide."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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