UK government: rainforests are weapon against global warming


Protecting tropical forests will simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, support poverty reduction and help preserve biodiversity and other forest services, says a new report commissioned by the British government. The report — dubbed the "Eliasch Review" after the lead author, Johan Eliasch, a multimillionaire Swede who runs a sports equipment company and owns 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon — takes a comprehensive look at the role forests can play in mitigating climate change. It concludes: "Urgent action to tackle the loss of global forests needs to be a central part of any future international deal on climate change"

UK government: rainforests are weapon against global warming

UK government: rainforests are weapon against global warming

October 14, 2008

New report is avoided deforestation equivalent of the Stern Review on climate change

Protecting tropical forests will simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, support poverty reduction and help preserve biodiversity and other forest services, says a new report commissioned by the British government.

The report — dubbed the "Eliasch Review" after the lead author, Johan Eliasch, a multimillionaire Swede who runs a sports equipment company and owns 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon — takes a comprehensive look at the role forests can play in mitigating climate change. It concludes: "Urgent action to tackle the loss of global forests needs to be a central part of any future international deal on climate change"

Climate Change: Financing Global Forests [PDF]

Deforestation and land use change account for around a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions — more than the entire transportation sector — but financial incentives (i.e. carbon markets) to reduce emissions from deforestation are presently excluded from international climate agreements. This may change at the next major round of climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Support for the concept — generally known as "avoided deforestation" — is being advanced by a wide range of interests on a number of fronts. The new report indicates that the U.K. government has thrown its weight into the effort, seeing the potential of avoided deforestation to be part of its portfolio of emissions-reducing mechanisms. The review cites research showing that beyond being a cost-effective way to help mitigate climate change, avoided deforestation offers a number of tangential benefits.

"Saving forests is critical for tackling climate change. Without action on deforestation, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will be next to impossible, and could lead to additional climate change damages of $1 trillion a year by 2100," said Eliasch. "Including the forest sector in a new global deal could reduce the costs of tackling climate change by up to 50 percent and therefore achieve deeper cuts in emissions, as well as reducing poverty in some of the world’s poorest areas and protecting biodiversity."

"Deforestation will continue as long as cutting down and burning trees is more economic than preserving them. Access to finance from carbon markets and other funding initiatives will be essential for supporting forest nations to meet this challenge," he added.

Amazon rainforest canopy in Peru.

Eliasch's remarks echo those put forth by Prince Charles, who has recently launched his own save-rainforests-for-climate initiative, backers of an innovative plan to conserve the forests of Guyana for the ecosystem services they provide humanity, as well as a growing number of environmental NGOs, who have lately taken to championing avoided deforestation as potentially one of the best ways to finance rainforest conservation and rural development. The British government apparently agrees.

“With more than a billion of the poorest people on our planet dependent on forests to provide them with a livelihood, today's report highlights the challenges we face in reconciling the short-term interests of individuals with the global challenge of tackling climate change," said Douglas Alexander, International Development Secretary for the U.K.


Critics of the concept say that avoided deforestation will let industrialized nations off the hook for climate change by allowing them to "offset" some of their emissions rather than reducing them. Further there are concerns over whether benefits will actually reach rural populations; "leakage", whereby carbon conservation in one area is undermined by deforestation in another; "permanence", whether a county can ensure that forest carbon savings are permanent; and determining how credits should be distributed between countries with high deforestation rates and countries with high forest cover but low deforestation rates.

Greenpeace, which has proposed its own non-market system for using forest conservation to slow climate change, and Friends of the Earth both blasted the proposal.

Tropical deforestation rates from 2000-2005, ranked in decending order by the highest amount of average annual forest loss for 25 countries based on data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Image by Rhett A. Butler, click to enlarge

"Allowing forests to become a 'get out of jail' free card for the big polluters would be extremely bad news for the fight against climate change," said Andy Tait, Greenpeace's biodiversity of biodiversity, in a statement. "If Gordon Brown accepts these proposals he will give a green light to companies to use forest protection abroad as a cheap alternative to making the dramatic cuts in the industrial and energy sectors that we need here in the U.K."

“This scheme has the potential to cause even greater conflict over forests," said Tom Pickens, a campaigner with of Friends of the Earth, told the Times Online.

The report notes these these issues but nonetheless suggests that they can be addressed via an international framework on climate that involves stakeholders in tropical countries, as well to pushing for strict emissions reductions in industrialized countries.

"The international community has a role in ensuring that basic safeguards are in place for the people and places who are affected by a new system to reduce deforestation. Policies and programs to reduce deforestation should do no harm," stated the report. "The international community can help promote best practice and policies and measures that, as well as reducing deforestation, promote co-benefits such as poverty reduction and biodiversity protection and enhancement."

"Many forest nations will want to undertake policy and institutional reforms in order to create a governance environment in which sustainable land and resource management is possible and profitable. Clarifying and securing land tenure and user rights will be an essential part of this. The international community should provide urgent support for capacity building where necessary."

Leaders from the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a group of tropical countries seeking compensation for forest conservation, also expressed optimism.

"Papua New Guinea welcomes the Eliasch Review as it highlights the fundamental role of carbon markets over the medium to long term while emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach in the shorter term," said Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and one of the initiators of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. "Within the context of the current global financial instability, we must urgently identify mitigation strategies that are lower-cost and quickly implementable – reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries offers exactly that potential. Accordingly, on behalf of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, we will work closely with Prime Minister Brown to take forward the best ideas from this Review.”

“The Costa Rica experience supports many of the findings from the Eliasch Review – with dedicated resources, creative institutions and a sound legal framework, deforestation can be reversed and forest cover expanded," said Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno-Ugarte of Costa Rica, also a Coalition country. "For Costa Rica to be successful towards our goal of carbon neutrality by 2021, we will require international support to scale-up our efforts to conserve existing forests and increase reforestation and restoration activities. Only through an integrated approach to forestry, can we push back the effects of climate change. Today we have a historical opportunity to make things right and correct the mistakes of the past."

"As the world acknowledged last year in Bali, we cannot win the battle against climate change unless tropical forests are fully integrated within a post-2012 agreement. The necessary methodologies and technologies exist. What remains is capacity building and the mobilization of the necessary international resources," added Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda of Indonesia, a country that is the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter when emissions from deforestation are included. "We look forward to working with the Government of the United Kingdom on the important issues of tropical forestry and climate change."


The Eliasch Review says that "an ambitious international climate change deal should aim to halve deforestation emissions by 2020 and make the forest sector carbon neutral by 2030 – with emissions from forest loss balanced by new forest growth."

The review notes that while "reducing deforestation rates significantly will require substantial finance… the net benefits of halving deforestation could amount to $3.7 trillion over the long term" in terms of the value of ecosystem services. It estimates that avoided deforestation ("deforestation and degradation (REDD)") could finance a 75 percent reduction in deforestation by 2030, while halving the cost of a 50 percent reduction (relative to 1990 levels) in global carbon emissions.

The report fails to note that as the owner of 162,000 hectares of rainforest in Brazil, Eliasch may benefit personally from any mechanisms that compensate landholders for maintaining their forest cover. Eliasch runs Cool Earth, a non-profit that sells forest carbon offsets to consumers.

Climate Change: Financing Global Forests. The Eliasch Review

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