The Waxman-Markey bill signals Washington’s intentions to pony up to fund deforestation prevention as part of overall climate legislation. But will climate scientists, C-15 negotiators, developing countries and environmental groups agree on an international forest protection program that everyone, including the trees, can live with?
Scientists and climate policy makers now agree that saving forests is one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change. But that has not always been the case.
When the Kyoto Protocol was formulated, only reforestation and afforestation – not deforestation prevention – were deemed . By stripping forest conservation of any functional value, a perverse incentive structure emerged: Cutting and replanting trees provided non-Annex 1 countries an optional revenue stream, but keeping living trees standing did not.
As the next round of negotiations approaches, new scientific findings are challenging the beliefs and motivations that led to the earlier exclusion of forest conservation.
First, a study released last September that old growth forests cease sequestering carbon from the atmosphere once they reach a certain age.
Second, land use, land use change and the forestry sector now constitute one-fifth of the world’s emissions. Because trees emit carbon once they are felled, an increase in deforestation would mean even greater emissions.
Despite consensus on the importance of deforestation prevention, though, there is on how to achieve it.
The initiative – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation – seeks to provide developing countries with a monetary incentive for preventing deforestation. Since 2005, when it was first proposed by the governments of Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, REDD has become a key element of the discussions.
"There is broad consensus now that the post-2012 agreement will include some sort of incentives for tropical countries to reduce their deforestation," said , Environmental Defense Fund co-director. Already, the UN-REDD policy board has to support pilot programs.
However, considerable controversy still surrounds REDD, with the latest debate centered on the best financing mechanisms.
The proposed by Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey would make REDD a key piece of its offsetting strategy. It would do this through : offsets, a supplemental pollution reduction program, and strategic reserve auctions.
The bill also contains measures aimed at protecting groups who may become vulnerable from deforestation prevention, namely by being expelled from their land, and increasing awareness about the consequences of deforestation in countries where it is the most rampant.
Despite the bill’s ambitious approach, not everyone is convinced that is the best way forward. Critics in environmental groups, as well as EU leaders, have expressed doubts about creating a market for tradable forest preservation credits.