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A New Leaf: Tackling Deforestation and Climate Change Together

The world is now meeting in Poland to tackle global warming - and Earthjustice is there. Read our daily dispatches.

The world is now meeting in Poland to tackle global warming - and Earthjustice is there. Read our daily dispatches.

Saturday was Forest Day at the climate negotiations in Poznan. Many people think of forests in terms of the CO2 that they absorb, or "sequester"– the rainforests of the Amazon, Congo and Indonesia are known as the lungs of the planet. But every year an area of forest the size of Greece is cut down or burned releasing enormous amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere – a tragedy for indigenous forest-dwelling communities, biodiversity and the planet. Take a moment to think of the scale of the crisis: satellite images show that an area roughly the size of Connecticut was deforested in Brazil alone in the 12 months through July, 2008.

It is now almost universally agreed that the world cannot avoid catastrophic climate change without tackling deforestation. Even more, the influential Stern Report and the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reported that preventing deforestation may offer the single greatest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions, and is an essential complement to ambitious action to reduce industrial emissions.

One of the key breakthroughs in the Bali Action Plan was that governments agreed that "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation" (REDD) in developing countries is urgently needed to address climate change. (Consideration of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation was excluded from the Kyoto Protocol.) Devising equitable and practical ways to slow deforestation and reduce these emissions – in remote forests in countries around the world – will be a critical part of the post-2012 agreement to address the climate crisis.

Most REDD proposals being discussed here are based on the idea that developed countries will offer financial incentives – through funds or markets – to developing countries for activities such as strengthened law enforcement, fire control, and sustainable forest management. (Many efforts to tackle deforestation in the past have been stymied by the lack of regulatory capacity and pervasive corruption.) The basic idea is to create mechanisms that will reward land-use activities that reduce or avoid emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Norway has already pledged a remarkable $1 billion to a new Amazon Fund aimed at improving forest conservation and stepping up efforts to enforce forest protection laws in Brazil. The Brazilian government hopes to raise $21 billion, arguing that since the whole world receives climate benefits from the Amazon, its only right that the world helps pay for its protection.

The many Forest Day activities profiled the extraordinary work of NGOs from around the world to help ensure the participation of all stakeholders in REDD – especially the forest communities and indigenous peoples who are the traditional guardians of the forest. Representatives of indigenous peoples from the Amazon and around the world spoke out telling negotiators that "for the climate crisis to be resolved, indigenous peoples must play a vital role." They called on nations to strengthen land tenure and fully implement indigenous rights as recognized in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the United Nations last year, as fundamental steps to strengthen forest protection and tackle the climate crisis. As Juan Carlos Jintiach of the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon told us yesterday: "Our forests contain vast stores of carbon, and play a vital role in stabilizing global weather patterns and restraining climate change, while supporting the greatest biodiversity on the planet. The integrity of the Amazon rainforest is essential to the health of the Earth, and protecting Amazonia should be a top priority for everyone."

Tags:  science