17 December 2009: Focus on forests and finance

During the last two days of the Copenhagen Summit, world leaders should focus less on targets and more on forest protection and finance. Deforestation accounts for almost a fifth of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, ruins the lives of those who live in them and destroys wildlife. Money is needed to help governments combat illegal logging and to compensate them for the short-term economic cost of avoiding destructive development paths. This means leaving forests standing – which the developed world did not; and not burning fossil fuels in a filthy way – which the developed world certainly did.

All countries should support the proposal of the Ethiopian government, which it put forward in partnership with France, of a fund of $10 billion every year covering the next three years dedicated to controlling emissions and adapting to the impacts of unavoidable change. 40% of this would be dedicated to adaptation in Africa and 20% to early action on forest protection. This is not nearly enough money, but better than nothing, and the proposal makes it clear that additional money will be needed after 2013 (see Joint appeal of France and Ethiopia, representing Africa, for an ambitious Copenhagen Accord). Mexico and Norway have put forward a similar proposal (see The Mexican-Norwegian Proposal on Climate Change Financing: The Green Fund). In addition, Japan has reportedly offered $10 billion over three years to 2012 to help developing countries control climate change (see Reuters: Japan to offer $10 bln to fight global warming: report).

An agreement on this issue would at least avoid Copenhagen being a total failure.  It is essential that the summit does deliver some tangible benefits; otherwise too many people will lose interest or give up. It is as valuable for developed countries to pay for forest protection and low-carbon development in developing countries as it for them to reduce their own emissions (indeed they must do both), since it does not matter where greenhouse gases are emitted (see Offsetting: what is it and is it desirable?). The US, EU and Japan could deliver a trilateral agreement setting up this fund, if the EU and US follow the Japanese example.

Sadly, this week, the EU has taken a pathetically weak position on deforestation, as it did last week on finance (14 December 2009: Trillions for bankers, only billions for rest of humanity). This time it was agriculture ministers who blocked proposals from the European Parliament to prevent illegal wood and wood products from being placed on the EU market. The UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark supported these proposals. France agreed that European rules need to be strengthened, but voted against the parliament’s proposals, as did normally progressive Sweden, Finland and Austria. The Greenpeace European Unit says that this was “to please the special interests of the forestry business” (see Greenpeace European Unit: European governments reject stronger legislation on illegal logging).

Demonstrators marched yesterday in Copenhagen demanding an end to international capitalism. Whether or not that is desirable (in my view it isn’t), it certainly will not happen in time to save the climate. A less radical but much more achievable objective is to demand that all countries make it illegal to use illegal goods.


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