Forests and other natural ecosystems play an essential role in regulating our global climate by absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and storing it as biomass. Our world’s tropical rainforests are estimated to contain roughly one-quarter of all the carbon in the terrestrial biosphere.
Human land use pressures such as development and agriculture are causing alarming rates of tropical deforestation today. The loss of our planet’s tropical forests and peat lands currently accounts for an astounding 15% of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
At the Copenhaen climate talks of December 2009, the international community acknowledged that averting the potentially devastating effects of an increase in global temperatures of 2°C cannot be achieved without protecting our planet’s forests. Tropical forest conservation is one of the most cost-effective ways of mitigating the effects of climate change. To encourage developing countries to protect their tropical forests, developed countries are pledging to provide financial incentives for keeping forests standing. This is known as REDD+ (defined by the UNFCCC as “policy approaches and positive incentives on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”).
The Copenhagen Accord, brokered by the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa at the conclusion of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, includes a clear commitment to REDD+.
- A Copenhagen Green Climate Fund has been created to support climate change mitigation projects in developing nations. Six countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, France, Australia and Japan, have already agreed to contribute US$3.5 billion over the next three years, with a commitment for longer-term funding of US$100 billion for activities that address climate change, including REDD+.
- If carefully implemented to ensure financial transparency, environmental and social safeguards, REDD+ programs have the unprecedented potential to bring together the interests of governments, communities and the private sector to protect our planet’s forests in a collaborative and equitable system.
- REDD+ could also provide important domestic economic benefits to the United States’ farmers and foresters, by reducing market competition with U.S.-produced food and timber products of external products illegally-sourced from areas of tropical deforestation.