Climate meeting in Bonn: save the forests, but don't cheapen carbon

Feature story - 30 March, 2009
If we're to have a hope of saving our planet from runaway climate change, we need to make it expensive for industry to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, and we need to make it profitable for countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to preserve their tropical rainforests. Sounds angelically simple, but we need real leadership at the Bonn climate conference to get the devil out of the details.

Saving her shouldn't put money in the pocket of a polluter.

Around twenty percent of the world's greenhouse gasses come from deforestation. You read that right: twenty percent.

Incentives to preserve our forests, and in particular the tropical rainforests which are vast carbon consumers, are essential to any deal to stop runaway climate change.  

How NOT to save the world's rainforests

But forest protection is relatively cheap, and there's a risk that incentives for forest protection can be used to dilute the value of all carbon credits, giving big polluters an easier ride when they have to buy carbon credits on the open market.  The cheaper a ton of carbon pollution is to purchase, the less likely it is that a corporation or government will seek real reduction solutions.

The problem is, not a few corporate lobbyists and heel-dragging governments have figured this out, and would love to see forest credits included in the carbon markets in a way that would make carbon cheaper.

That's a bad idea.

We just released a report ( summary here) that demonstrates that including forest protection measures in carbon markets could crash the price of carbon by up to 75 percent and derail global efforts to tackle global warming.

It could also lead to developing countries losing out on billions of dollars a year for investment in clean energy technologies. If these countries don't get incentives for a switch to low-carbon technologies, through carbon markets and funds, emissions will continue to rise.  

Clean energy investments 

The report shows that countries like China, India and Brazil could lose tens of billions of dollars for clean energy investments if forest protection measures are included in an unrestricted carbon market.  Such a move would cause a "lock in" effect where dirty technologies, like coal fired power plants, would continue to be built and operated.

It would also slash the number and value of energy credits, so countries like China and India would get less money for sustainable development policies -- an estimated $10 billion per year for China alone.

Cheap forest credits sound attractive but a closer examination shows they are a dangerous option that won't save the forests or stop runaway climate change.

Of the many options for forest financing currently on the table, this one ranks as the worst.  

Beltra: forests burning

So, how do we stimulate renewables AND save the forests?

We have a solution -- it's a separate fund for forest preservation. 

We believe that the carbon markets should focus on driving clean and renewable technologies in key industrial sectors; and developed countries should make an additional "tropical deforestation commitment" to help finance forest protection in developing countries.  

This would be done best through a new forest fund  -- one which values both the climate and biodiversity benefits provided by forests.

Forests contain half of all life on Earth. Orangutans, elephants, tigers and jaguars are just some of the animals who make their homes in tropical forests.

Up to 150 million indigenous people live in forests worldwide. It's these people that need to have their futures secured so they can remain guardians of the forests. 

If countries commit to a Forests for Climate fund, we can achieve win-win-win benefits for climate, biodiversity, and local communities and forest peoples.  

The bottom-line benefit for protecting our forests should not go to the planet's biggest polluters.

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