Forestry talks end in toothless pact in Barcelona

Fri Nov 6, 2009 3:45pm EST

1 of 2. A banner calling for climate change is hung on the Cristobal Colon statue during a demonstration on the final day the Barcelona Climate Change Talks November 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Gustau Nacarino

BARCELONA (SolveClimate) - Hopes for a strong global deal that would pay poor nations to stop deforestation hit a new low on Friday after negotiators released a draft proposal that lacks teeth.

The new text on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, or REDD, contains no international rules to enforce forest protection in countries that would get billions of dollars to implement REDD.

Most of those nations have weak legal enforcement of their own.

That makes the agreement "worth no more than the paper it is written on," said Rosalind Reeve of London-based Global Witness. "The text, as it stands, reflects a strong push to receive REDD funds with no oversight."

Deforestation contributes about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN figures.

World leaders decided at the Bali climate change talks in 2007 to include a forest component to the climate treaty that was to be formalized in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Progress in the REDD negotiations had long been seen as being further along than the sluggish Copenhagen talks overall. But this week in Barcelona, forest advocates expressed disappointment in the way REDD was being shaped.

They cited one small victory: A provision to stop countries from razing carbon-absorbing natural forests to grow palm oil plantations in their place was put back in, only in a much weaker from.

The "conversion safeguard," as it is known, was removed from the negotiating text at the Bangkok climate talks in October by the European Union.

Now, instead of being firmly "against the conversion of natural forests to forest plantations," as the original text stated, the new draft promises to "promote actions" that "do not provide incentives for conversion of natural forests."

Critics argue the language leaves too much room for ambiguity.

"Right now, we have a pretty worthless safeguard and no rules to implement it, at a time when we need strong safeguards and strong rules are needed, said Roman Czebiniak, political advisor on climate change and forests for Greenpeace International.

It's a little bit of a chicken and an egg problem, as Davyth Stewart, an attorney for Global Witness, explained: Even if the safeguard language gets strengthened and sticks, without compliance, "who's going to make sure countries are not turning their natural forests into plantations?"

The new safeguard language is also in brackets in the negotiating text - as is much of the REDD proposal - which means it's still up for debate. It could be sliced again, or improved.

The forecast for improvements on REDD when talks convene on December 7 in Copenhagen are mixed.

This text released at the end of the Barcelona talks is not the last word, Czebiniak said. "Real safeguard text and real monitoring can still could get in," and they just may, he said.

"The public thinks we're here to protect tropical forests. I don't see anyone accepting a deal whose purpose does not do that," Czebiniak said.

Nathaniel Dyer of Rainforest UK was not as optimistic. "A REDD deal might end up as a green-washing exercising if there is no legally binding climate change agreement at Copenhagen," he said.

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