CARE BLOG

If the devil is in the detail, where did the angels go?

6/16/11

Blog
from Climate Change Conference Bonn

By
Raja Jarrah, CARE”s Senior Advisor on REDD
June 16, 2011

The metaphor of forests being the lungs of
the earth has been often used. Scientists hate that metaphor but it works for
most of us. Among the many functions of forests, they recycle the carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere and emit oxygen. Yet tropical forests are
disappearing at an alarming rate – not only emitting more greenhouse gases in
the process (as trees burn or decompose), but also reducing their capacity to
absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from other sources.

The scheme called REDD (Reduced Emissions
from Deforestation and forest Degradation) was invented to address this
problem. It is fraught with technical and political challenges – how to measure
forests properly, how to stop their loss, how to protect the rights of
indigenous peoples and local communities who depend on forests, and how to pay
for it. These details have preoccupied negotiators and their advisers since
REDD was agreed in Bali in 2007. And they are very important, because we have
to make sure that saving forests is done in a way that respects the rights of
the people who depend on them, particularly those whose voice is seldom heard,
like women and indigenous peoples.

Yet while there has been some progress in
working out these details, it seems that we have lost the sense of urgency. We
are spending ages designing a complex system of rules that will end up only
saving some of the world”s forests – those in countries that have the
wherewithal to comply with those rules. Yet it is within our power to completely
halt the loss of forests if we want to – arguably the quickest reduction in
emissions that we can make. To make this happen, we must: make it a global goal
that we all work towards; put the money behind this commitment; and curb
the demand from our industrialized society for biofuels, animal feed, and beef,
the three main reasons that tropical forests are converted to agricultural
land.

Every day we are putting more carbon into
the atmosphere. We turn the carbon that is locked underground in fossil fuels
into carbon that is freely circulating in the atmosphere – forever. REDD alone will not stop runaway climate change, though it can achieve results fast, and give time for the transition to a low carbon culture to take place. So REDD only makes sense if urgent action is taken to reduce emissions as quickly as possible in all other sectors at the same time. Returning to the analogy of forests as lungs – what”s the point in treating lung disease if the patient will not promise to quit smoking?

So what is missing from the UNFCCC (United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process? Two straightforward commitments
to remind us why we are doing all this: a binding commitment to ambitious
emissions reductions from all countries; and a vision to reduce deforestation
to zero in ten years. The rest is just necessary
detail.