From Barcelona: What UN Climate Talks Mean for Forests

By Eric Palola
Barcelona, Spain UNFCCC Climate Talks

The Mediterannean Sea is no more than a stone’s throw from Barcelona.  Fabric billboards suspended from lampposts herald the talks as “securing a global deal on climate change”.  But most of Spain seems ambivalent.  Unemployment hovers near 20%, the highest within the European Union, and the country’s national daily El Pais is preoccupied with estimates that Spain may actually see negative growth in 2010.

Thousands of delegates and observers have converged onto Barcelona for the final UN climate negotiations leading up to Copenhagen.  The talks are struggling but there a still several days to go.  As seems typical of these meetings, the most affluent and influential countries, the ones who hold all the cards in terms of needed greenhouse gas reductions and future climate financing are being non-committal.  Maybe it is just a diplomatic game, but the developing countries are furious.  Alongside the big issues of future targets and timetables for emissions reduction, one of the key fault lines in the negotiations for Reduced Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

Emissions from poor land use, especially from forest loss and conversion have risen to the top of the agenda in the post 2012 commitment period.  At issue is how the tremendous rates of deforestation occurring in many tropical regions, some 13-15 million hectares per year, can be slowed if not stopped altogether.

REDDs is a hot topic here. The stickiest issues involve what forms of payment to developing countries will provide enough incentive to leave forests standing, and in turn, what assurances the international community can extract to confirm their money wasn’t simply wasted on graft and corruption and those forests are in fact still standing.  A strong underlying concern is how valuing forests purely for their carbon may trump other social and environmental aspects, especially in forest regions with strong cultural histories of indigenous forest peoples.

Eric Palola is the Sr. Director of Forest for Wildlife at the National Wildlife Federation.

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