At the conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Norway’s minister of climate and environment, Vidar Helgesen, signed an agreement pledging stronger collaboration on forests and climate change.
Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary, Thomas Silberhorn, announced an increase in his country’s contribution to 200M Euros.
Several speakers at the conference urged more inclusion and consideration of Indigenous Peoples.
Last week, some 500 members from governments, corporations, and NGOs from 47 countries convened in Norway to discuss tropical forest conservation at the Oslo REDD Exchange (REDDX). The event concluded with several announcements, including commitments from the Norwegian and German governments to increase their REDD+ funding, as well as the signing of an agreement between the U.S. and Norway pledging bilateral support of tropical forest protection and restoration.
“We must end deforestation, and this will only be possible if all countries are involved,” said Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg during the conference’s opening remarks. “Developing countries should not bear the burden of deforestation alone,” she added.
This, in part, forms the impetus of REDD+ (which stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation”), a program in which developing countries are rewarded financially for lowering deforestation-related carbon emissions. This financial reward by and large comes from richer countries that support projects on-the-ground aimed at protecting remaining tropical forest cover and restoring that which has been degraded.
REDD’s focus on tropical forest conservation isn’t simply for the forests themselves. Research has shown deforestation is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions, amounting to around a quarter of the global load. At December’s Paris climate talks, forests played a central role, with studies released showing that tropical deforestation must be slowed in order to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and thus stave off the worst effects of global warming.
At the REDDX conference, Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary, Thomas Silberhorn, announced his country is upping it REDD+ commitment a further 50 million Euros to 200 million ($225M). A portion of this will include private funding.
“In the end, it’s a question of the survival of humankind,” Silberhorn said.
REDDX also saw the appearance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who, together with Norwegian minister of climate and environment Vidar Helgesen, signed an agreement pledging to bolster efforts to protect the world’s tropical forests.
Speaking emphatically, Kerry said that the only way to keep global warming under 2 degrees is to protect and restore forests.
“Reducing deforestation and doing more to preserve our forests would enable us to achieve a full third of global mitigation goals by 2030,” said Kerry. “Trees, as you all know, are nature’s own carbon capture and storage mechanism. And this is to say nothing of the extensive benefits of forest protection related to biodiversity, air quality, water quality, homeland for indigenous people, and more. So it is not acceptable that the world today is losing nearly 50 football fields’ worth of forest every minute.”
Helgesen underlined the importance of collaboration to achieve this end: “To realize the historic Paris Agreement, all nations must to more at home and abroad.”
One of Norway’s new commitments includes a further $14 million for strengthening the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch, which aims to increase transparency surrounding land use changes around the world. In total, Norway has pledged up to 3 billion NOK ($361M) per year for tropical forest conservation.
“By protecting our forests, we are thus making a crucial contribution to climate change mitigation and global sustainability, and – ultimately – to the future of humanity,” Solberg said.
REDD+ on the ground: an example from the DRC
One REDD+ project highlighted at the REDDX conference is unfolding in Mai Ndombe District of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The project encompasses nearly 300,000 hectares of Congo Basin rainforest, in which live several endangered species such as bonobos and forest elephants. The project area is located within the Lac Télé-Lac Tumba Landscape, which includes the largest wetland recognized as a Ramsar Convention conservation area of international importance, as well as a large portion of the shoreline of Lac Mai Ndombe, the largest freshwater area in Africa.
Until recently, the region was licensed as a logging concession. But in 2007 the concession was suspended and its rights acquired by Canadian company Ecosystem Restoration Associates and its DRC partner organization, Wildlife Works. In 2011, with the support of the DRC government, the Mai Ndombe REDD+ program officially kicked off, with a goal of reducing emissions by more than 100 million metric tons over the next 30 years. Of this, it’s aiming to achieve 29 million metric tons in reductions by 2020.
The Mai Ndombe project area is also home around 50,000 people – mostly around its namesake lake. In addition to preserving forest and reducing carbon emissions, the REDD+ project also aims to foster sustainable development through economic incentives for emissions reductions. As a consequence, the program hopes to alleviate the local poverty so rife in the region, and increase residents’ access to clean drinking water, education, and healthcare.
Those involved with the project say it could be the first step in creating a model for green development elsewhere in the Congo Basin.
“This is something entirely new in Africa,” said Flory Batamba of WWF DRC, during a panel discussion on the project during REDDX. He added that private sector entities like timber companies are even getting onboard by submitting their data for the project.
Ellysar Baroudy of BioCarbon Fund and World Bank Group said the project is so unique that this week’s Carbon Fund meeting in Paris will be considering DRC, along with Costa Rice, as the first countries to include this kind of conservation in their portfolios.
In addition to a focus on improving the economic capacities of local communities in the Mai Ndombe and shifting their livelihoods and energy needs away from deforestation, the panelists also underlined their importance to the success of the REDD+ project.
“Local communities should be considered first and foremost,” said Victor Kabengele Wa Kadilu, a minister in the DRC government and National REDD Coordinator, adding that they possess significant, valuable traditional knowledge about the Mai Ndombe landscape.
Guy Kajemba, who is affiliated with the program, followed by saying the project is working with people from local and indigenous populations to obtain information about the area’s plants, animals, and geography.
However, the Mai Ndombe project is not without its critics. While it has been operational on the ground for five years, it has not yet reached emissions reductions stage – despite being four years away from its first reductions target of 29 million metric tons. A representative from the Environmental Investigation Agency also alleged during the REDDX conference panel that the project’s plan didn’t include much in the way of how it aims to address grievances from, implement safeguards for, and execute benefit sharing among local communities.
Responding to the criticism, Baroudy and other panelists said the planning process is still not complete, and that strategies for these issues will be more thoroughly discussed in later documents.
Inclusion of Indigenous Peoples
Throughout the conference, a central theme was the importance of indigenous participation in REDD+ planning and implementation. According to data from the World Bank, 500 million people living in abject poverty are dependent on forests for their livelihoods, food, and fuel; of those, around 200 million are Indigenous Peoples.
Studies have shown that areas managed by indigenous and local communities are among the best preserved. Community-managed forests in Brazil, for example, were found to have an average deforestation rate that is 22 times lower than outside areas.
“If you do not protect Indigenous Peoples, how do you protect the forest?” asked Abdon Nababan, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) during REDDX.
Proponents say not only do REDD+ programs help keep forests standing and attract financial streams to Indigenous Peoples, but they can also help clarify and legalize official land rights. Previous research has found the world’s local and indigenous communities lack rights to nearly 75 percent of their land.
However, REDDX speakers highlighted the lingering need to strengthen these fronts.
“We need to go beyond REDD as trees or money; it is about rights and people,” said Hindou Ibrahim of the International Indigenous Peoples Form on Climate Change. She urged the need to prioritize the clarification of land tenure not just locally but internationally.
Joenia B. Carvalho, of the Roraima Indigenous Council in Brazil, emphasized the need for direct financing and involvement of indigenous communities, saying that communities in her district do not yet have direct access to REDD+ funds.
Lars Løvold, Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, Norway, added that land rights remain a major gap in REDD+ on the ground, in general. He said that while programs have identified areas with tenure problems, little has been done to remedy them. There are millions of people living in forests, he said, “not ever having really been awarded [for] protecting it.”
Curbing illegal logging
“Action must follow promises,” said Norway PM Erna Solberg as she opened the Oslo REDD+ Exchange, adding that the New York Declaration on Forests and Paris Agreement cannot be achieved without a collaborative, concerted effort to stop tropical deforestation. Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen ended the conference by saying that, if successful, REDD+ has the capacity to keep 4 billion metric tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere by keeping trees in the ground.
Helgesen also highlighted the importance of stamping out illegal logging, a major driver of tropical deforestation.
“If we want to stop deforestation in the supply, we need to end illegal trade,” he said.
Throughout the conference, speakers brought up the problem of weeding out and stopping illegal deforestation, and the agreement signed by Kerry and Helgesen includes strengthening their “respective efforts to fight illegal logging and associated trade.”
Illegal logging amounts to 15 to 30 percent of all wood traded globally, according to Interpol. That number rises to 50 to 90 percent in forests that are major producers of tropical forest products, such as the Amazon and Congo Basins, and Southeast Asia.
“Illegal logging is not just a forest problem, it is also part of the financial basis of international organised crime,” Helesen said. “This is another reason why we raise this issue higher on the agenda.”
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