Climate change now occupies a place in the public consciousness that few would have thought possible at the time of the Kyoto Protocol agreement in 1997. Along with “green consumerism” and “sustainable investing”, the rising determination to stop dangerous climate change is reshaping our civic discourse and the horizon for business planning.
Many are nevertheless surprised to learn that one of the most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions – accounting for as much as 20 per cent of global emissions annually – has to date been almost completely excluded from the international
Tropical deforestation is second only to the combustion of fossil fuels as a contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Forests – the lungs of our planet – store more carbon than exists in the earth’s atmosphere, while supporting critical ecosystems. Yet this vital dimension of a climate change solution was omitted from the Kyoto treaty. On the eve of the Copenhagen climate change talks, we have a second chance.
We cannot miss this opportunity to ensure that the successor to Kyoto includes a policy framework for reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD)*.
Powerful economic and social needs drive deforestation. Just as most of the developed world experienced periods of high deforestation, converting forested land for agricultural and industrial purposes, so too deforestation in today’s developing world is the result of pressures created by a growing population whose desire is to prosper. Understanding these pressures and reducing them requires a change in economic incentives.
REDD can accomplish this by providing revenues in exchange for leaving trees standing – rather than cutting them down. Under REDD, countries and communities that can verify reduced emissions by avoiding deforestation will be paid for doing that, just like the owners of solar- or wind-powered electrical plants. Demonstrating that REDD can work is critical, because it offers one of the largest and cheapest opportunities in the short term to significantly reduce GHG emissions. Many of the solutions to climate change being advanced today require significant technological innovation or massive overhauls of existing infrastructure. A transition to alternative energy, for example, will take years of reworking national power grids. Carbon capture and storage is still largely on the drawing board. In contrast, halting deforestation requires laws and incentives to change economic behavior, processes that are limited not by technological know-how but by political will.
REDD was kept out of the Kyoto agreement, in part due to concerns about feasibility and scope. But improvements in measurement, reporting and verification now provide the means for nations to manage their forests for carbon and be paid for it.
The key actors at Copenhagen must send a clear signal to policymakers and market makers by including REDD in the climate agreement, and, just as importantly, providing sufficient resources to finance this effort. This will require a role for public funds to create the foundation on which private finance can then build.
Reliable financing from developed countries will give forested nations the incentives and the support they need to develop the institutional capacity required to oversee REDD. A clear regulatory framework will give the private sector the certainty it needs to play a constructive role in what many expect to be a significant and vibrant part of the carbon markets. Properly structured, an international regime for REDD aligned with effective national-level policies will harness the power of the public and private sectors, and deliver real results for those communities which are ultimately the caretakers of this precious global resource. And future generations will be thankful that today’s leaders not only saved the climate, but saved the ecological treasure of the world’s forests.
*Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD, is the term commonly used to describe the array of policy prescriptions aimed at making a solution to deforestation part of the global climate change regime.
Donald Kanak is Chairman of Prudential Corporation Asia (Asia Regional Headquarters of Prudential Group of the United Kingdom) and Chairman of WWF’s Forest Carbon Initiative.