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Slow Progress on Curbing Deforestation Expected at Climate Conference

  • Brian Padden

At the U.N. climate summit in Doha, environmental activists are urging participating countries to think big about how to control deforestation in the developing world, which accounts for 16 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. United States, Europe and other advanced economies have already agreed to pay developing countries to protect their forests, but progress has been slow.

In Indonesia, a moratorium on new forest development appears to have little effect as farmers and large companies continue cutting down trees for timber, then burning off the land to create palm oil plantations.

The moratorium in Indonesia is part of a $1 billion deal with Norway to protect forests that store vast quantities of carbon dioxide or CO2, one of the greenhouse gases that many scientists say contribute to global warming. It is one of over 300 such projects in 52 countries, such as Bolivia and Tanzania, under a United Nations initiative called REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. So far, most of these projects have yielded only modest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Fred Boltz, a senior vice president at Conservation International, says progress on REDD has been slow because it involves much more than preventing forest fires.

“We are talking about transforming the global economy, the paradigm for valuing forests, recognizing their importance in meeting our climate challenges. And that transformation is complex. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a lot of financial and intellectual investment," said Boltz.

He says to succeed, REDD needs better enforcement, greater incentives for businesses to take part, and more money than $10 billion already promised. Environmentalists say both big companies and impoverished farmers need help to meet the world's growing needs for food, fuel and minerals without cutting down forests.

But Boltz says there is a global consensus that strong measures must be taken to reduce deforestation, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks and planes in the world, to prevent catastrophic global warming.

“Deforestation constitutes about a sixth of our problem. And if we don’t solve the entirety of the problem, we lose. So there is that political will and recognition of the urgency and the necessity of resolving REDD," he said.

Boltz says at the Climate Conference in Doha, he expects incremental progress to be made to link effective regulation to increased funding for conservation.
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