Forests: Winners of the Copenhagen Summit
by Pablo Martinez de Anguita, Director of the Latin American Network of Payments for Ecosystem Services
Last December in Copenhagen, world leaders agreed that the reduction of deforestation is a highly worthwhile method of reducing greenhouse emissions. This was in keeping with the recommendations of the Stern Report that quantified deforestation emissions as more than 18% of global emissions, a percentage even higher than that produced by the world's transportation sector. Thus, in the sixth paragraph of the agreement, the participants recognized the crucial role of the reduction in emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD, English acronym). They agreed to create positive incentives through the immediate establishment of mechanisms such as REDD in order to guarantee financial resources for developing countries. The financing for REDD projects represent the first massive mobilization of world funds capable of saving the tropical forests that are currently disappearing at a frightening rate.
A REDD mechanism is a type of "Payment for Ecosystem Services" in which the developed countries finance those that are still developing. The goal is to develop strategies and policies that guarantee the effective management and preservation of forests, resulting in carbon compliance and conservation on an international scale. REDD mechanisms are characterized by their "Atmospheric Integrity" for promoting a stabilization of CO² in the atmosphere. They are characterized by their "Ecological Integrity" for helping to improve biodiversity and other ecosystem functions of the forests, such as the provision of water and food. REDD mechanisms are also known for their "Social Integrity" for recognizing, protecting, and respecting the rights of the indigenous people and local communities while assuring them that they can develop their means of living while participating in the benefits of REDD.
The challenges faced by REDD will be complex. In the majority of the countries where REDD will be applied, land ownership is rarely guaranteed. Even when it is guaranteed, it is not necessarily in favor of the local communities or original indigenous people of the region who could effectively oversee the proper management of forest resources. It is also not clear that REDD mechanisms will, in and of themselves, reduce rural poverty which is responsible in great measure for forest deterioration. More concretely, the FAO estimates that 95% of forests in Africa belong to the government, which tends to give forest concessions to foreign companies rather than to local communities whose ancestors have inhabited the area. For this reason, practically all the authors agree that it is impossible to develop this mechanism in countries without adequate forest management. Until these three matters can be resolved, it will be practically impossible to stop deforestation.
Maybe we cannot say that the “Copenhagen Agreement” represented the beginning of the end of climate change. Nevertheless, 30 billion dollars have already been committed until 2012 to assist less developed countries while another 100 billion dollars are foreseeable annually from private and public sources. If part of this money could be applied now to facilitate the structures that would make payments for ecosystem services sustainable, fair on the local level, verifiable on the international level and capable of channeling future funds, it would put an end to at least some of the disappearance of the planet's tropical forests.