Forests back in fashion as weapon to combat climate change

Perhaps one of the greatest natural defences against climate change, the Earth's forests, got a boost this week with Britain's Prime Minister and a host of environmental lawyers throwing their support behind plans to protect them and eventually include the forestry sector in carbon markets.

A review commissioned by Gordon Brown and led by advisor Johan Eliasch has concluded that deforestation in countries heavily covered by rainforest could be halved in the next 12 years and the world’s forestry sector could be carbon neutral – effectively sustainable in the long term – by 2030.

The review looks at the financial mechanisms needed to make this happen and comes down heavily in favour of wealthy industrialized nations offering funding to support forestry in poorer nations and somehow incorporating the carbon sink effect of existing forests into global carbon trading.

In a nutshell, the report says that countries that protect their forests should be rewarded for doing so by the international community.

The specific mechanisms recommended for doing this are slightly more complex.

Mr Eliasch said: “Saving forests is critical for tackling climate change. Without action on deforestation, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will be next to impossible, and could lead to additional climate change damages of $1 trillion a year by 2100.

“Including the forest sector in a new global deal could reduce the costs of tackling climate change by up to 50% and therefore achieve deeper cuts in emissions, as well as reducing poverty in some of the world’s poorest areas and protecting biodiversity.

“Deforestation will continue as long as cutting down and burning trees is more economic than preserving them. Access to finance from carbon markets and other funding initiatives will be essential for supporting forest nations to meet this challenge.”

The review has been broadly welcomed in political circles, but environmental NGOs have given it a frostier reception.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Tom Picken said: “Allowing rich countries and businesses to ‘offset’ their carbon dioxide emissions by buying up huge tracts of forest is riddled with problems and will do little to tackle climate change.

“The industrialised world must rapidly cut its dependency on fossil fuels if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change from taking hold. The Eliasch plan will simply create a smokescreen allowing us to carry on polluting – it’s the climate change equivalent of sub-prime mortgages.

“Forests and forest communities urgently require protection. Financial packages are needed – but we must also address the underlying causes of deforestation, such as biofuels, excessive meat consumption and industrial logging.”

Meanwhile, the timing of a book launch at Chatham House could not have been better planned, with a quartet of legal heavy weights from the environmental world unveiling their tome on a very similar subject.

Climate Change and Forests: Emerging Policy and Market Opportunities has been penned by Charlotte Streck and Robert O’Sullivan, both senior figures in climate law and carbon market consultancy Climate Focus BV, Toby Janson-Smith leads Conservation International’s Ecosystem Service Investments program and Richard G Tarasofsky, legal counsel with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

He was previously the head of the Energy, Environment, and Development programme at Chatham House.

The book could almost be a companion text to the Eliasch review, looking at the operation and efficacy of market-based mechanisms for forest conservation and climate change.

Sam Bond

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