Developing countries will commit to protecting their forests in return for financial compensation from the big polluters. But deforestation will not appear in a binding Paris agreement. EURACTIV France reports.
Forests are both important carbon sinks and vital economic resources for developing countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Brazil.
COP21 offers these countries a chance to impress this upon the international community, and to make the developed world understand the cost of conserving the “lungs of the planet”.
The second day of the international climate negotiations (1 December) was dominated by the issues of fighting deforestation and forest restoration.
And with good reason. After the oceans, the forests are the world’s second biggest carbon reserve, and they are being cut down at an alarming rate.
Not only does this reduce the planet’s ability to store carbon, but deforestation and land use change are also extremely carbon intensive activities.
Every year, deforestation and forest degradation releases between five and ten gigatons of CO2, making forestry the second most carbon intensive sector of the economy, after the fossil fuels sector.
Despite being curbed to some extent, deforestation continues to wreak havoc with important ecosystems. Some 129 million hectares of forest have been lost since 1990, according to the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment carried out by the FAO. This represents an area roughly the size of South Africa.
And the trend is still going strong, particularly in Africa and Latin America, which have lost 2.8 and 2 million hectares of forest respectively since 2010. But in a rare piece of good news, the report stated that net global deforestation has slowed by more than 50% in the last 25 years.
During COP21, certain developed countries have already announced finances aimed specifically at the challenge of deforestation. Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom have pledged to mobilise $5 billion for forestry projects between 2015 and 2020.
This will be allocated to forested countries that are willing to make real CO2 emissions cuts by fighting deforestation, through the REDD+ financial mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries. Launched in 2008, this mechanism provides financial compensation for countries that make efforts to reduce deforestation from planned levels.
Anti-deforestation measures taken by different countries as part of the REDD+ scheme will not be an integral part of the Paris agreement, but will be included in the agenda of solutions, a system that is not universally popular.
“We expect REDD+ to be integrated into the Paris agreement so that certain countries, for whom forestry is the only carbon intense sector, can obtain financing,” said the DRC’s Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development, Robert Bopolo Bogeza.
Within the agreement currently under negotiation in Paris, the question of the forests is far from settled. “All references to forests […] in the draft agreement appear in brackets, which means they do not benefit from the support of all the Parties and they are still subject to debate,” the WWF stated.
For Liberia, whose population has long made its living by plundering and exporting the country’s exotic woods, the question of financial compensation is crucial. The Managing Director of the Liberian Forestry Development Authority, Harrison Karnwea, said “Liberia will not stop exploiting its wood, but will do so in a more sustainable way.”
The Ivory Coast has a similar dilemma. Deforestation has boosted the economic development of the country, enabling it to become the biggest cocoa exporter on the African continent.
“We have gone from 12 million to 2 million hectares of forest in just a few years,” said Rémi Allah-Kouadio, the Ivory Coast’s minister of environment. “The deforestation that we have carried out has been for a good cause, but now we have to change this forest-agriculture relationship,” he added.
Expanding agricultural land
The expansion of agricultural land is responsible for a large proportion of deforestation. This is particularly true of the poorest countries, where the majority of people make a living from farming and do not hesitate to cut down trees to free up more land.
“We have to be able to produce more with less; to move from an extensive agricultural model to an intensive one,” the minister said.
To make this possible, the Ivory Coast has decided to experiment with mixed land use. Thanks to a World Bank programme, Allah-Kouadio’s agriculture ministry has launched a pilot project for farmers to grow cocoa in the forest.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has one of the world’s largest forest basins, has taken a series of measures to protect its forest assets. A spokesperson from the ministry of the environment said, “We are working closely with the ministry of agriculture to establish a map of degraded land.” The aim is to identify priority areas for restoration.
“We foresee the end of deforestation between 2020 and 2030,” the DRC’s minister of environment said. “But someone has to pay for the DRC’s efforts to re-establish its forests,” he stressed.