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By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia
SINGAPORE, May 21 (Reuters) - A scheme that could unlock billions of dollars for poorer nations by saving their forests is set to be included in a new climate pact, a top U.N. official said, but issues such as funding still need to be resolved.
Deforestation contributes nearly 20 percent of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions and support is growing ahead of U.N. climate talks in December to back a scheme that rewards developing countries for preserving or replanting forests. Called reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), the scheme aims to increase forest cover to soak up carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels blamed for rising seas, greater extremes of weather and melting glaciers.
"It's very likely we'll see REDD included in a Copenhagen agreement," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters.
"What I see is everyone constructively working towards a solution and that's different from the debate a couple years ago," he said in a telephone interview late on Wednesday.
Delegates from nearly 200 nations meet in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, at the end of the year to try to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol and REDD has been a major focus in talks ahead of the December meeting.
Some nations, such as Australia and Indonesia, want a market-based scheme in which tradeable REDD credits can be issued for forest projects that can prove carbon is being locked away for decades. Poorer nations could sell the credits to the carbon market or rich countries could buy them to offset home emissions.
Estimates vary but annual revenue from REDD credits could reach between $5 billion to $20 billion, the U.N. says.
The European Union, though, is worried cheap REDD credits could flood the market and discourage rich nations from making deep emissions cuts at home. Norway says emissions cuts from REDD projects should be additional to any abatement efforts by developed nations.
"Part of the challenge for Copenhagen will be to find an adequate balance and such a balance could be found, saying, for example, that REDD-related credits may only represent a certain percentage of an industrialised country's reduction effort."
There is also debate as to whether a REDD scheme, once all the measuring, monitoring and verification systems have been agreed, should be funded entirely by the market, only by public funds or a mixture of both.
"If REDD is to be brought under a market-based approach then questions of volume and what that volume would do to price are also an issue," de Boer said.
A major point of debate was how to calculate real emissions reductions from REDD projects. For example, emissions reductions needed to be measured against some kind of reference level.
But there was debate over whether this would be past deforestation rates or projections for deforestation or forest degradation in the future.
De Boer was confident a broad outline of a REDD scheme would be agreed and said it did not make sense to work towards a Copenhagen agreement without it.
"Forest countries like Indonesia, where deforestation is taking place on a massive scale, are never going to be able to stop that deforestation unless they manage to offer poor people an economic alternative.
"People don't cut down trees because they think trees are ugly. People cut down trees because there's an economic advantage to doing that." (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)