The REDD zone: World’s forests under negotiation at Bali

The following post was written by Erin Condit-Bergren, 25, in Bali. Erin is a climate activist from California currently working in London.

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Trees: believe it or not, they are still at the center of the environmental debate. Most people are focused on industrialized nations’ contribution to global warming from industrial activities and transportation, but deforestation from developing countries also plays a major role. Approximately 20% of the global carbon emissions are a result of deforestation.

It should come as no surprise then that one of the major items under negotiation at Bali is the REDD Scheme. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, aims to provide incentives for developing countries to cut emissions by preserving forests or having better forest management practices — all of this in an effort to bring down emissions from this source and to ensure that there are sufficient forests remaining for the uptake of carbon dioxide (and provide other crucial global ecological services).

I just attended a very interesting talk regarding the need for emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China to reconcile their need for development with reducing emissions. It is not surprising that Brazil is the central battle ground in the REDD debate, but the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the world’s second largest tropical forest, also received a lot of attention.

Part of the idea is based on the concept of providing farmers payments for the carbon storage capacity of their lands, thereby giving them an incentive to preserve forests. Experts at the talk suggested that sustainable forestry would allow for a more stable consumption of forest resources (timber) and not threaten forests from being fragmented over time. Finally, arguments were also made to provide assistance to indigenous people who are living in the world’s most heavily forested areas, because after all, these are the local guardians of the forests from industrial and agricultural interests. Doubling their income (to approximately $1,200/year) would not only improve their livelihoods, but they also provide a direct incentive to manage the forests sustainably.

There is some disagreement even among the developing countries regarding REDD. For example, REDD may help countries like Indonesia make money and protect their forests, but for countries like Tanzania and India where forest protection is working well as is, REDD funds will be unavailable. And industrialized nations, though supportive of REDD, see it as a threat to their “hard-earned” energy infrastructure projects in developing countries. Implementing REDD would flood the market with carbon credits, threatening revenue streams to renewable energy projects.

All of this further raises the question of countries’ sovereign rights to utilize their forest resources. In the past, such a scheme has been seen as a yet another ploy by developing countries to infringe on the rights of developing countries. Should nations in the global South be asked to keep their forests standing for the sole purpose of soaking up the carbon released from the global North? Didn’t much of Western Europe and the United States depend on their forests heavily to industrialize? Perhaps at last, the face of the debate may have changed — but only if the North commits to concrete assistance and fewer unjustifiable demands.

Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user sektordua.

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