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Dead REDD? Not quite, but plan to protect forests suffers set back in Copenhagen

Not dead but plan to protect forests by paying developing countries suffers a set back at the conclusion of COP15 in Copenhagen.

A plan to reduce tropical deforestation by paying developing countries to protect forests was postponed Saturday after world leaders failed to produce a binding climate agreement, reports the Associated Press.

Progress on the proposed REDD+ mechanism, which would compensate poor countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, had been seen as one of the only bright spots during climate negotiations in Copenhagen, but it appears to be on hold until there are more advances on a broader agreement. The postponement means that forests around the world may continue to fall, endangering biodiversity, depleting potentially renewable resources, and exacerbating climate change. Tropical deforestation is a larger source of greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, ships, and trains combined.

“It’s depressing,” Kevin Conrad, executive director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, a group of 40 forested nations, told the Associated Press. “REDD gets punted along for another year.”

The final draft REDD text produced in Copenhagen was weakened from earlier versions. It includes mention of several hot-button issues including rights of indigenous people and the importance of protecting biodiversity, but emphasizes “sustainable management” (logging) over conservation, a disappointment to environmental groups.

While gloomy on the prospect of another year of negotiations, some REDD supporters remained optimistic that progress had been made in Copenhagen.

“The REDD text published is a major backdown from what almost everyone thought was an advanced text on many regards,” John O. Niles of the Tropical Forest Group, a forest policy NGO, told “[But] REDD was by several orders of magnitude, the most technically and politically enlightened and advanced topic in Copenhagen.”

“Although there were extreme differences on REDD going into COP15, it was clear that at the talks most Parties and Observers wanted REDD+ to succeed – there was a general sense (except for the obvious outliers of anti-market, and right-wing players) of what would have been good for forests, local people, and climate change,” he continued. “Remaining differences and hard choices that would have been made, that were being made, were eclipsed by the U.S. once again upheaving a process that was already in upheaval.”

Niles said that despite a one billion dollar overture towards the development of the REDD mechanism over the next three years, the U.S. remained an important obstacle to overall progress in Copenhagen.

Jeff Horowitz, founding partner of Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for U.S. leadership on REDD, was more hopeful on America’s support for forest conservation.

“We cannot let this procedural setback diminish our resolve to create policy frameworks that addresses this immediate and scalable solution to climate change,” he told “I am certain this delay in Copenhagen will serve to fire up the US environmental community, and our private sector partners, to be more motivated than ever to see the U.S. Senate pass climate legislation that includes robust international forest protection provisions in the first quarter of 2010.”

The U.S. delegation in Copenhagen was in part handcuffed by the lack of a domestic climate policy. The passage of climate legislation would provide American negotiators with more leeway in making commitments at the international level. Once U.S. law is in place, REDD may be a path forward on a broader climate agreement.

“The one issue that can unite governments and constituencies… is massive new incentives to arrest deforestation at scale in developing countries,” said Niles. “This single positive will probably need to carry the day when a real binding and ambitious accord will eventually be drawn, sometime in the next 18 months.”

Methodological guidance for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries [PDF]

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