Saving rainforests a thorny issue at Bali talks
By David Fogarty
NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Protecting tropical rainforests, which soak up vast amounts of greenhouse gases, is proving a real headache at U.N.-led climate talks in Bali, where delegates are trying to sort out a pay-and-preserve scheme.
Scientists say deforestation in the tropics is responsible for about 20 percent of all man-made carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. Halting the destruction, or at least curbing the clearing and burning of remaining tropical forests, is widely regarded as a crucial part of any new climate pact.
Under a scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD), developing nations could earn billions of dollars through carbon trading by simply leaving forests such as in the Amazon and Congo basins.
"I do think we will see deforestation in the agenda for the future (negotiations). The focus here is pilot projects and more methodological work," said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat.
"It's clearly one of the issues that a number of countries want to introduce," he told Reuters.
Curbing deforestation has become a top issue for the thousands of delegates at Bali because the Kyoto Protocol does not include schemes that reward developing nations to preserve tropical rainforests.
The United Nations hopes the two-week conference will agree to include a REDD scheme in negotiations to work out a broader climate pact by 2009 to replace or expand the Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase ends in 2012.
The problem, though, is finding a scheme that fits all developing nations, said Hans Verolme of conservation group WWF.
"My instinct is there will be an agreement on a phased approach where we will start with some countries that are more ready than others," said Verolme, director of the WWF's Global Climate Change Program.
Nations also needed to sort out the type of compensation scheme, such as a market-based carbon scheme, a fund-based scheme or a blend.
CASH FOR FORESTS
To help nations prepare, the Bali meeting is expected to launch a series of pilot projects, which have not been finalized.
At its simplest, the idea is to issue carbon credits to qualifying developing nations and rich nations buy these credits to offset their emissions at home.
It's a system that commoditizes forests and rewards poor nations for keeping forests that might otherwise be cleared for their hardwood or to create vast plantations for biofuels or timber to feed ever-growing global demand for pulp and paper.
"Right now there are no standards for these credits," said Verolme, adding it was crucial to ensure any new forest credits did not flood Europe's carbon market.
Delegates are still sorting out how to monitor the world's remaining rainforests, how to ensure a halt in logging in one area or country doesn't shift the problem elsewhere, how to work out the amount of carbon that can be saved from a particular forest and the historical rate of deforestation.
But by far the biggest issue is compliance.
"The most difficult thing is how to ensure that within the institutions and governance of some of these countries that things are going to truly happen and that in the long run those things will not be undone," said Pep Canadell, executive officer of the Global Carbon Project.
He said total emissions from deforestation over the past 7 years from Southeast Asia had risen while those from the Amazon basin, described at the lungs of the earth, had fallen.
Indonesia, which is losing vast areas of forest every year, is keen to earn money from saving what's left and some provinces have already taken a headstart by signing agreements with international carbon investment companies.
The government also plans to launch studies measuring emission cuts from deforestation and distributing the benefits from a possible financing scheme to forest-dependent communities.
A Brazilian delegate told the Bali conference her government did not believe in market-based mechanisms to limit deforestation unless rich nations agreed to make major emissions cuts at home.
Canadell, from Australia's state-backed research body CSIRO, said rich nations needed to curb their appetite for tropical timbers.
"Despite our efforts and developing standards and global markets that are conscious of, and aware of, destroying the tropics, the developed world has continued buying tropical timber from non-sustainable sources," he said.
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(Additional reporting by Adhityani Arga, Alister Doyle and Gerard Wynn in Bali; Editing by Alister Doyle)