June 3, 2009

Climate Change Plan Draws Many Criticisms

A plan to make polluters pay to preserve forests has come under scrutiny for being unworkable and dangerous.

The Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plan (REDD) is being pushed as an element in the new global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

The plan's rationale is fairly uncontroversial, saying that the Earth needs forests to absorb carbon in the atmosphere.

The world also needs to slow down deforestation which results in nearly 20 percent of worldwide emissions through rotting trees and forest fires.

Those behind REDD want to sell carbon on the global market so big polluters can offset their own emissions.

Developing nations such as Indonesia and Brazil have been pushing REDD to counteract their high rates of deforestation.

Critics believe REDD could turn trees into carbon credits and imperil the global fight against climate change.

A recent report issued by Greenpeace argues that REDD credits could flood global markets, thus reducing the carbon price and making it cheaper for polluters to avoid genuine emissions cuts.

"You'd have rich developed countries basically paying the poorer countries in the world to reduce emissions for them," said Greenpeace forest and climate campaigner Paul Wynn.

"It certainly has the potential to have a big negative impact on the big competitive advantage that should be given to low-carbon and renewable technologies," Wynn added.

"(Forest conservation) can be done much easier by a fund than by market cowboys racing around the world looking for cheap offsets," he told the Associated Free Press.

Other environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth International believe indigenous people could be hard-pressed to take advantage of carbon markets.

"The simple fact that forests are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity means that they are more likely to be wrested away from local people," a Friends of the Earth report said.

According to Markku Kanninen, of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and member of the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says these dire predictions are "extremely pessimistic."

Some nations, including the United States, are pushing for a market-driven REDD, but concerns over the plans effectiveness means nations will likely opt out of methods to introduce REDD into the market when they meet in Copenhagen in December.

According to CIFOR, cutting global deforestation by half would cost $20 to $30 billion a year.

Only global markets would be able to foot such a large bill, Kanninen said.
"No one is saying we're going to stop deforestation with this, we are going to reduce it," he added.

Indonesia, which has been the first country to formally introduce REDD programs, is still planning to clear vast tracts of forests for timber, paper and palm oil, said CIFOR expert Kristof Obidzinski.

Forest emissions have made Indonesia the world's third-largest polluter after the United States and China.

"It's going to be very difficult if not impossible to outdo (the money that can be made from) oil palm with REDD," Obidzinski said.

According to Boen Purnama, Indonesian forestry ministry secretary-general, concerns over REDD's effectiveness would not prohibit its implementation at home.

"I think there are many things we have to learn about this, but that doesn't mean there are a lot of difficulties and we have to stop," he added.

The country's reputation still has many critics concerned.

Two years ago Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban wrote a letter to a Sumatra court that helped a wealthy timber executive escape charges for illegally logging billions of dollars worth of trees.


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