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CLIMATE CHANGE: World Bank Touts Funds, Critics Smell Hot Air

Abid Aslam

WASHINGTON, Dec 12 2007 (IPS) - The World Bank is seeking money for a scheme aimed at making it more lucrative to preserve the world’s forests than to fell them.

“The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility signals that the world cares about the global value of forests and is ready to pay for it,” Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, said of the initiative. “There is now a value to conserving, not just harvesting the forest.”

The initiative could generate billions of dollars for investors in rich and poor countries alike but critics say it will allow polluters to carry on fouling the atmosphere.

Nine industrialised countries have so far pledged 160 million dollars towards the 300-million-dollar pilot scheme, Zoellick said Tuesday at its launch on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks on the Indonesian island of Bali. Some 30 countries – including Indonesia, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide pollution from deforestation – have asked to take part, the bank said.

Forest loss is a key agenda item at the talks on how to manage the climate change crisis after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions expires in 2012. Scientists say forest loss is the second leading cause of global warming, accounting for upwards of one-fifth of greenhouse pollution.

For decades, environmentalists have warned that deforestation exceeds transportation in adding to the problem of climate change, blamed for weather-related calamities, health crises, and lost production. They also have sought to defend Earth’s equatorial forests – from the Amazon to the Congo River Basin and Borneo – to preserve biodiversity.

The warnings have had little effect, activists and academics say. Many agree this is because, in conventional economic terms, trees left untouched are worthless whereas those felled for wood or to clear land for commercial crops have cash value.

The forest carbon facility aims to correct this by financing two separate funds with the bank acting as trustee.

Some 100 million dollars is to be earmarked to help 20 countries prepare strategies to protect rainforests and establish monitoring systems. The second, 200-million-dollar fund would reward the actual protection of a forest that otherwise might have been stripped or the replanting of trees that already have been felled.

The scheme would add deforestation to the global carbon trading market, estimated at 30 billion dollars and growing. Over the past decade, the bank and other financial institutions have worked to advance the market for carbon emissions, a principal source of global warming. The idea is provide polluters the chance to offset their own emissions by paying others for conservation efforts, specifically by buying the resulting ‘credits’, or notional carbon savings, at market prices.

Last year, the private company Carbon Pool arranged one such project in which an Australian forest was spared and the resulting carbon credits were sold to multinational miner Rio Tinto so it could claim its operations resulted in less greenhouse pollution than otherwise would have been the case.

The United Nations hopped on the bandwagon Wednesday, announcing it would buy enough carbon credits to render its worldwide operations “carbon neutral”. U.N. officials told IPS in Bali that travel to and from the climate talks there alone would generate some 3,370 tonnes of carbon dioxide and the cost of offsetting this would come to around 100,000 dollars at current carbon prices.

Even so, controversy dogs carbon trading.

“Several years of carbon trading have not stopped increasing rates of greenhouse gas emissions,” a coalition of environmental advocates said in a statement. “In fact, studies show they may be resulting in an overall increase in emissions.”

This, they said, is because carbon trading has enabled carbon-intensive companies and countries to buy their pollution reductions elsewhere without taking real action to curb their own use of energy derived from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

“We need to stop deforestation and cut fossil fuel use,” Tony Juniper, head of the British chapter of lobby group Friends of the Earth, said Wednesday. “We can’t trade between them, we must do both.”

“The things that will make a difference have been known for some time,” Juniper said in a written commentary. He highlighted what he considered top priorities, including bolstering enforcement at national parks and giving indigenous people control of their land.

“But all this takes money and political will, and it is these [that] have been in shortest supply,” he added.

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