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Deal to Save Forests Could Be Copenhagen's Bright Spot

U.N.-backed REDD program could mean billions of dollars for developing countries and forest communities as rich nations buy carbon offsets to meet their emissions reduction obligations at home.

Natasha Saini

After two weeks of sometimes tense negotiations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, one bright spot has been support for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. 

For the first time in decades of international climate talks, an incentive to save tropical forests is on the negotiating table. 

A U.N.-backed plan for "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation,"  or REDD for short, is designed to pay the poorer nations to save their forests.

Charlie Cronnick at the environmental group Greenpeace says it could be a very positive development.

"It can be a genuine contribution to the inevitable ongoing fight to protect the climate because what is absolutely certain is we're not going to get anything like what we needed out of Copenhagen," he said.

The program could mean billions of dollars for developing countries and forest communities as rich nations buy carbon offsets to meet their emissions reduction obligations at home.

But Charlie Cronnick says that for the project to be successful, it must be done the right way.

"There has got to be adequate funding," he said. "It has to respect the rights of indigenous people and protect bio-diversity. In other words it can't just be an excuse to cut down forests and put in plantations and things like palm oil or other monocultures."

Nick Nuttall, spokesperson for United Nations Environment Program, adds that policymakers need to also be careful that the project does not simply displace deforestation to areas not covered by the program.  But for the deal to come into effect in the first place, a number of loose ends need to be tied up.

"The question is, you know, whether we will get a comprehensive package of various measures that are needed to get a deal here in Copenhagen. You know, we've got issues of financing, we have issues concerning REDD, we have issues of technology transfer," said Nuttall.

Nuttal says, however, that there is widespread support for the program among all parties concerned and it will move ahead in one form or another- as part of a Copenhagen deal or outside of it.

For the climate talks at Copenhagen that have been beset by complications, the REDD program could be a bright spot.  Scientists say deforestation accounts for about one-fifth of the greenhouse emissions damaging the environment and the program could go a long way in tackling the problem.
 

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