‘Forgotten’ forests need climate cash to halt emissions

Forest clearance counts for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions but funds are not yet flowing to protect trees

Forests are valuable carbon sinks (Pic: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)

Forests are valuable carbon sinks (Pic: Flickr/Rainforest Action Network)

By Alex Pashley in Barcelona

At the bartering table of world climate talks forests are often given a free pass.

Chopped down for timber and cleared by agribusiness, deforestation counts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s just shy of what China gushes into the atmosphere.

You wouldn’t know it.

“Too often landscapes and forests are the forgotten part of the climate discussion,” Justin Adams of the Nature Conservancy said.

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There isn’t a lack of “conservation capital” to flow into so-called sequestration projects, which pay countries to protect trees through carbon credits.

Just the pipeline of certified programmes needs to be broadened, so waiting investors can deploy capital, experts at an industry conference in Barcelona said on Wednesday.

They assessed the “green growth component” of forests and landscapes to bridge the “emissions gap”.

That’s how much the UN’s Environment Programme says the world is overshooting CO2 levels consistent with limiting temperature rise to 2C.

In 2020, 52-54 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent will be pumped into the atmosphere, not the 44 Gt Co2e the UN recommends. That needs to fall to zero by 2070, it says.

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As over 190 nations work to finalise a global climate pact in December, forests are critical.

“You can’t be viably tackling a 2c target if you don’t target 25% of emissions,” said Neeraj Prasad at the World Bank, who oversees almost $1 billion of the fund’s cash for forest finance.

Madagascar, the island that lies off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, has received help from the World Bank through its REDD+ mechanism.

With 5% of the world’s biodiversity, almost four-fifths of its 9.5 million hectares of rainforest are now protected areas, its environment minister Ralava Beboarimisa said.

But illegal loggers continue to fell lucrative rosewood while growing populations encroach on pristine rainforest and its wildlife, hunting bush meat.

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Flows of money for REDD+ projects and through instruments like the Green Climate Fund can make headway, but more work is needed to develop an economic alternative that reduces dependency on these vulnerable ecosystems, Beboarimisa said.

Last year, the New York Declaration on Forests signed by over 130 governments and businesses pledged to cut net deforestation to zero by 2030.

Asia Pulp and Paper, US food processor Cargill, and consumer goods firm Unilever were among 34 companies vowing to green supply chains.

But a major pick-up in projects which safeguard carbon-sucking forests will not take place unless they are “investable,” said Kyung-Ah Park, head of environmental markets at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank.

A “policy environment” of carbon pricing, robust regulations and compliance framework to vet projects would need to be imposed by governments.

“Economic incentives can be shifted certainly by putting the optimal price on carbon sequestration of the forests,” she said.

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Though to get the “butterfly” of net-zero deforestation you can’t ignore the “caterpillar”, said Joost Oorthuizen, executive director at the Sustainable Trade Initiative.

He used the example of Brazil where farmers “had to get within the law”, then be certified as recipients for finance.

Achieving that goal won’t be easy.

Striking net zero deforestation in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, reversing activity like cattle-rearing and soybean production which has moved in lockstep with logging frontiers, had an opportunity cost of €50 billion.

“They are huge figures for one state of Brazil,” said Oorthuizen.

For now, forestry finance is just matchsticks, and won’t stem rising emissions.

So too was capital for clean energy like solar and windpower, Goldman Sach’s Park told RTCC – now a “robust business” counting for US$55 billion in capital.

“Arguably 10-15 years ago the momentum wasn’t there. That’s where we need to get to with forestry,” she added.

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