A new $280m (€208m) initiative to help save the world's remaining forests was launched by the UK, the US and Norway at the United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw on Wednesday.
The money is aimed at encouraging the sustainable use of land, including ensuring that fewer forests are lost to agriculture – the biggest cause of deforestation – and that there is a market for sustainably produced forestry goods, including food, fibre and timber.
Norway is earmarking up to $135m, the UK $120 million and the US $25m for the first year.
But the contributors to the fund acknowledged that the money was not new, as it came from existing climate aid budgets. The plan, called BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, is aimed at kickstarting the Redd+ scheme, for the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which has been in the works for more than six years but is still not fully operational. The World Bank will be involved in its implementation.
Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, told the conference: "Our global forests are the lungs of the world, and protecting them is fundamental for our survival. When we hand these forests to future generations, we must be able to say we exercised our stewardship wisely and responsibly. This century, tree-cover the size of Greenland has been destroyed by logging, fire, disease and storms. We have the opportunity now to pull forests back from the brink – reducing emissions and safeguarding the wildlife, agriculture and other livelihoods that depend on the forests. We must not let that opportunity pass us by."
John Kerry, US secretary of state, speaking by video link, said: [This is a] critical new tool to help us meet our responsibilities to future generations. It will help countries make progress on sustainable land use practices. The United States stands with willing partners in the fight against global climate change and I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure a more secure future, not only forested countries but for the entire planet that we share."
Davey said that one new aspect of the initiative was that it would work with the private sector to promote the sustainable use of forest products.
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, said: "This is exactly the type of initiative that we are delighted to support. We need to find new forms of public private partnership to address global challenges such as deforestation. Multilaterals like the World Bank play a critical role in catalysing these new business models and Unilever is interested to learn how we can participate and partner with the Bio Carbon Fund."
Some green campaigners welcomed the initiative, but said it did not go far enough, as tens of billions of pounds are needed for Redd+ to work effectively.
Josefina Brana-Varela of WWF said: "The announcement by top donor countries to fund the new joint Redd+ programme, the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, with $280m committed so far, is a great example of nations coming together to address climate change in ways that benefit people and nature, but more needs to be done. WWF's expectation is that nations fulfill their promise of $100bn per year from both public and private sources by 2020."
She added: "The announcement, though, sends an important and strong signal that some key nations are willing to work together to both fund and implement Redd+ ... action that needs to be embraced by other [countries] in order to achieve broad agreement on a Redd+ finance architecture."
However, Asad Rehman, head of International Climate, Friends of the Earth EWNI said: "This money is the clearest choice in favour of dirty energy we've seen so far in Warsaw. Rather than investing in the transition to renewable energy at home and abroad, these countries are investing in establishing the conditions for discredited and ineffective 'forest carbon credits'
"We face a planetary emergency – the solution is not in continuing business at usual at home and generating false 'credits' from forestry, it is making the shift to clean energy technologies, while also protecting forests and forest dependent communities through improved forest governance and protecting rights to land and resources."
Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst of ActionAid International said: "No new or additional climate finance has been announced at this event. Non-additional and repackaged finance provided in an ad-hoc manner through bilateral initiatives does not move us towards our long term finance goals."
The EU contains 5% of the world's forests. EU forests have continuously expanded for over 60 years, although recently at a lower rate. EU Forests and other wooded land cover 155 million hectares and 21 million ha respectively. This together means more than 42% of EU land area is covered with forest and other wooded land.
Forests are subject to multiple pressures and can suffer a series of damages from biotic and abiotic sources, the European Commission says.
The current EU Forestry Strategy dates back to 1998. Based on cooperation between the EU institutions and countries, it set a framework for forest-related actions supporting sustainable forest management. However, the Commission says that new framework is now needed in order to respond to the increasing demands put on forests and to significant societal and political changes that have affected forests over the last 15 years.
The new strategy, published on Friday 20 September, brought together various policy areas, including rural development, enterprise, environment, bioenergy, climate change, research and development. In a related initiative, the Commission also issued a blueprint laying out the activities to help EU's forest-based industries overcome their current challenges.