“Avoided Deforestation” Plan Gains Support

AmazonEconomist Nicholas Stern urged U.S. leaders to contribute to a Brazilian fund for conserving the Amazon during a visit to Washington, D.C., last week.

While visiting the White House and Capitol Hill, the former World Bank chief economist said the fund would help reduce Amazonian deforestation and also protect the region's ability to absorb greenhouse gas emissions.

"One of the best investments we can make is to put money in Brazil's Amazon Fund," Stern said at an event hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) on Thursday, repeating the advice he delivered to members of the Obama administration. "It's a good thing for development. It's a good thing for climate change."

Leaders from around the world have visited Washington in recent weeks to press Congress and the Obama administration to support international forest preservation projects as part of wider global efforts to tackle climate change.

Stern has previously supported the inclusion of "avoided deforestation" projects as part of international climate agreements - a policy known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD. He estimates that global deforestation can be halved if climate negotiators provide $10-15 billion per year for REDD projects.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva established the Amazon Fund last year to attract $21 billion in donations from industrialized nations. The donations support efforts to reduce deforestation rates 70 percent by 2018 through greater enforcement of logging restrictions and land-title reform.

Norway has offered $1 billion to the fund, and Brazilian leaders say other European nations have expressed interest in contributing. The fund, however, does not allow donors to receive carbon credits or "rights to emissions" - a likely reason why some nations have been hesitant to participate. Brazil has long been skeptical of any deforestation agreement that may allow industrialized nations to control its Amazon policies.

Stern, who currently teaches at the London School of Economics, said the restrictions should not deter support. "If you can get carbon credit - good. But you should do it anyways," he said.

During a meeting of international climate negotiators in Poznan, Poland, last December, Brazil announced its goal of reducing Amazonian deforestation to 5,742 square kilometers by the years 2014-17.

Brazilian leaders have since advertised the fund as a sustainable development tool for the Amazon. "If you want to keep forests standing, you have to pay for the economic development of an entire region," said Luis Figueiredo Machado, director-general of the department of environment and special affairs in Brazil's external relations ministry, at the IADB event. "The opportunity cost of 100 years from now could be a metropolis in that area."

Conservation group WWF is critical of the Amazon Fund. The group, which has proposed ending Amazonian deforestation completely by 2015, said the national plan lacks sufficient ambition, given the stakes. "The CO2 released from clearing this area of Amazon forest would be roughly equivalent to the current annual emissions of Canada," said Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza, conservation director at WWF-Brazil, in a statement.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was among the leaders who visited the United States last week to raise support for the climate negotiations that will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December. Negotiators will decide upon national commitments as part of the Kyoto Protocol process.

The inclusion of agriculture and forestry in the treaty could be "win, win, win," both for polluter countries that need to buy emission offsets and for poorer nations that would receive funding for sequestering carbon on their land, de Boer said at a panel event organized by the Brookings Institution on Wednesday. Such provisions "definitely have to be part of the deal," he said.

Leading conservation groups opposed the inclusion of forestry credits in the Kyoto Protocol due to fear that cheap carbon credits would flood the carbon market. Negotiators are also concerned that REDD projects may halt deforestation at one site, but that illegal logging practices could occur elsewhere.

Many environmentalists have since conceded that climate change cannot be tackled without addressing deforestation, which contributes nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

WWF President Carter Roberts was among the leaders who formerly opposed REDD. But at an event on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Roberts and the president of Guyana described REDD payments as vital for addressing climate change.

"There is no way Copenhagen is going to exclude REDD," Roberts said.

Ben Block is a staff writer with the Worldwatch Institute. He can be reached at bblock@worldwatch.org.

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