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CLIMATE CHANGE: See the Green in REDD+, Say Top Leaders in Cancun

Keya Acharya* - IPS/TerraViva

CANCÚN, Mexico, Dec 9 2010 (IPS) - An entire body of leaders, spearheaded by U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, is now looking at REDD+ as a panacea to global warming with multiple benefits thrown in.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

“REDD+ is the ‘shortest shortcut’ to address climate change; we will do all we can to support it, ” Ban told a packed audience of dignitaries, heads of state, indigenous community leaders, NGOs, forestry organisations and citizens convened by influential US NGO, Avoided Deforestation Partners.Org, on the sidelines of high-level deliberations at Cancún.

REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. It essentially supports developing countries financially and technically to either prevent deforestation or regenerate forests, and is currently not a part of either the Kyoto Protocol or the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It is, however, being both pushed and deliberated on at the meetings underway currently in Cancún.

“The overall message of REDD+ is that it is progressing well,” said Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. “The personal leadership of heads of state of national governments like Guyana, Brazil and Indonesia has helped. So the main effort is by national governments.”

REDD+ has garnered around $4.5 billion in funds so far through bilateral agreements. Most of the funding currently is from Norway, which is funding both reforestation and avoided deforestation programmes in Guyana and Indonesia.

In May 2010, Norway signed a $1 billion deal with Indonesia, which Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the head of Indonesia’s government REDD+ Unit, said was a partnership that is the best way to approach the climate change problem and which he hoped would become a worldwide model.

Kuntoro, however, added that the process of REDD+ needed careful consideration in its implementation.

“From an economy that was based on cutting trees, we are now introducing a new way of managing things without cutting. It needs a whole new paradigm of government change,” said Kuntoro.

Kuntoro’s leadership in the reconstruction of Aceh after the devastating tsunami of December 2005, with 93 percent of funds actually seeing direct results on the ground, has been lauded by the international community.

Norway’s PM Stoltenberg also highlighted the political risk involved in staking money on REDD+.

“It’s hard to win elections by raising taxes,” quipped Stoltenberg, “which is why we too are dependent on the success of Indonesia’s efforts. The concept is simple: we pay per tonne of carbon reduced, measured after a year.”

“Besides,” he continued, “as a political investor, transformation is essential.”

Billionaire-philanthropist George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundation which has given over $50 million so far to REDD+ efforts, says “REDD+ is a method that can be done, and can be done cheaper than any other method.”

International forestry organisations and prominent individuals like Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai and U.N .Messenger of Peace Dr. Jane Goodall are in strong favour of promoting REDD+.

In a video message to the group at Cancún, Maathai said she saw REDD+ as an excellent livelihood option, apart from its conservation and climate change benefits, while Goodall said conserving and re-generating forests would help save the world’s rich biodiversity.

But in spite of the high-profile support for REDD+, one of its first executors, Guyanan President Bharrat Jagdeo, highlighted in blunt terms the difficulties in getting the international financial institutions “up to speed” on the matter.

“What I have a problem with is I have x tonnes of carbon saved, Norway is paying, but I can’t get the money,” said Jagdeo. The World Bank, in this instance, has mired the Norwegian aid in bureaucracy so deep that Jagdeo feels political will be lost in using this new tool.

“Developing countries run the risk of the same situation as before: if there is no corresponding flow of finance, political capital will be lost,” he said.

Developing nations have been complaining throughout the talks at Cancún that climate financing, either promised or in general, is unforthcoming.

None of the $30 billion promised till 2012 by industrialised nations at Copenhagen last December for adaptation and mitigation in poorer countries has been remitted so far. A further $100 billion was promised for the same along with technology transfer by 2020.

With official funding through the U.N. framework remaining a serious problem anyway, REDD+’s propagation seems to hold out promise through the market, as in the case of the U.S. state of California.

Unlike its national government, California has a law to reduce emissions by 2020 to 1990 levels, with a slew of features like ‘cap and trade’, energy efficiency, clean cars and low-carbon operations. It now uses this to implement its REDD+ market strategy, while it waits to pass its draft REDD+ law.

The vice president of the Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation, Steve Kline, says the system works only because it is both climate-effective and cost-effective.

“So we have renewables, low-carbon operations and together we have offsets with local California companies. But we had to convince our customers first,” explained Kline.

Significant progress has been made so far at the Cancún talks to formulate a REDD+ strategy with components for local community rights, and gender considerations.

But while the drafts on REDD+ are almost ready at the Cancún deliberations, organisations like CARE International urge caution in finalising all REDD+ drafts.

“The critical issue in a REDD mechanism is to have strong safeguards to prevent it from harming the livelihoods and violating the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” says Raja Jarrah, CARE’s REDD Advisor.

“The real test will be how the words unfold into implementation on the ground,” says Jarrah.

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