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Forest Monitoring for Action (FORMA) uses satellite data to generate regularly updated online maps and alerts of tropical forest clearing. David Wheeler, now a CGD senior fellow emeritus, assembled and led a small team that created FORMA, which has since become a core component of the World Resources Institute (WRI) Global Forest Monitoring (GFW) platform launched in February 2014.
FORMA is now available for visualization, analysis, and download at GFW, a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests. CGD continues to work closely with WRI on forest monitoring issues as part of our Forests for Climate and Development initiative.
Using current data accessed via GFW, FORMA can be used to support international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions by demonstrating to those willing to pay for forest conservation (for example, through the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), bilateral programs such as Norway’s Forest and Climate Initiative or UN-REDD) that protected forests are indeed still standing. CGD has developed the Forest Conservation Performance Rating (fCPR) system as a set of benchmarks that showcase global progress in reducing forest clearing and that could form the basis for such payments.
When a tree falls in a forest, does anyone realize that it’s fallen?
You might be surprised to learn that until now, the answer to this question has basically been “no.” In an age when Google Street View lets us watch our neighbors mow the lawn or walk the dog, data on the world’s forests has been stuck in the Typewriter Age. Cross-national data on deforestation has been limited to the inconsistent numbers that countries self-report once every five years to the Food and Agricultural Organization’s Forest Resources Assessment. The lack of reliable data has posed a severe obstacle to conserving tropical forests for climate and development, since in the words of an old saying, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
But this all changed on Thursday, with the launch of Global Forest Watch—a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system created by the World Resources Institute with over 40 partners, including Center for Global Development.
What the map shows isn’t good. The Earth has lost 2.3 million square kilometers of forest in the last twelve years—an area the size of all US states east of the Mississippi River combined—while gaining an area of forest only one-third this size. Not only that, but the pace of deforestation, 50 soccer fields a minute, is actually increasing. In every country but one, deforestation is steady or on the rise. Every year we’re losing more and more of the forests that protect us from climate change, clean our water, keep us healthy, and keep us safe.
Nor is the damage to forests limited to tropical countries like Indonesia, which lost 90,000 sq km of forest from 2000-2012. The new data reveals that the US, Canada and Russia have lost more than 300,000 square kilometers of forest combined, even while they have reported gaining 40,000 square kilometers to the FAO, taking advantage of a loophole in the international definition of forest through which logging areas can be counted as “temporarily unstocked” forest even if there are no longer trees there. China reported gaining 300,000 sq km of forests, while data shows it lost 30,000 sq km.
Figure 1. FAO FRA net forest area change, 2000 to 2010, versus Landsat-derived net change, 2000 to 2012. Source: Hansen et al, Science, 2013.
But while the news isn’t good, the possibilities that this new data heralds are something to cheer about. Remember how I said deforestation is going up in every country but one? That one country is Brazil. For decades the Brazilian Amazon was ground zero for runaway deforestation (Brazil lost 220,000 sq km of forest from 2000-2012). But Brazil’s success in bringing its deforestation frontier under control in recent years has been astonishing. Rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon have fallen nearly 80% from a high of 27,800 sq km in 2004 to 5,800 sq km in 2013 (even after a 28% spike from a low of 4,600 sq km in 2012). Importantly, Brazil’s agricultural growth has been largely decoupled from deforestation. Over the same 2004-2012 period, soy and cattle production increased by 33% and 21% respectively.
Fig 2. Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon (INPE); Brazil soy production (FAOSTAT); Brazil cattle production (FAOSTAT)
While many factors contributed to Brazil’s success in reducing deforestation (including a voluntary moratorium on deforestation by soy growers, a change in how land title is granted, and stepped-up forest law enforcement), there is no doubt that Brazil’s success was underpinned by two satellite technologies from INPE, the Brazilian Space Agency. The first satellite program, called DETER, sends out alerts of where deforestation is happening across the Amazon every two weeks. This technology allows Brazilian authorities to match illegal clearing to specific properties and to enforce forest laws. Economists at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro reckon that deforestation in the Amazon would have been 59% higher without the DETER program. The other program, called PRODES, provides accurate numbers for exactly how much deforestation has happened and where, on an annual basis. So as Brazil ramped down its deforestation year after year, it could showcase its success to the rest of the world, and receive performance-based payments from Norway into the Amazon Fund.
Up until now these data sets were available nowhere else in the tropics. But now Global Forest Watch has put PRODES-like data in the hands of every forest country, every scientist, and every forest campaigner worldwide. And Global Forest Watch has now made DETER-like data available pan-tropically too, thanks to a program called FORMA that was first developed right here at CGD.
Now when a tree falls in a forest, Global Forest Watch lets the whole world know that it’s fallen. And now reducing deforestation the way Brazil has is within the reach of every country.
I didn’t attend COP 19, but having attended COPs 14 through 18, I figured I knew what I’d be missing: firmly staked national positions, tense late-night coffee-fueled negotiations over arcane legalistic text, and if all went well, at the 13th hour, just enough progress dribbling out to keep hopes alive for a comprehensive global climate agreement in 2015.
Of all these international initiatives for REDD+, the Carbon Fund of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility perhaps comes closest to the original vision for REDD+ —rich countries paying tropical countries for verified success in keeping their forests standing. The Carbon Fund, to which I am an advisor, brings together eight governments, two companies and a non-profit organization in a $400 million partnership to buy emission reductions from REDD+ programs in five tropical forest countries. As the first truly multilateral pay-for-performance mechanism for REDD+, the Carbon Fund will set the standard for future REDD+ investment to follow.
Hosted by the World Bank, Carbon Fund donors have spent more than a year hammering out how forest REDD+ programs will measure reductions, relative to what baselines, and adhering to what social and environmental safeguards. It is anticipated that this work will conclude two weeks from now in Paris. Now that the UNFCCC has agreed to an overarching rulebook for REDD+, the Carbon Fund can finish its more detailed set of rules as well. And in turn millions of dollars can begin to flow to protect tropical forests from Costa Rica to the Congo.
Over the last few months, in the context of my new affiliation with CGD, I’ve been making a transition from “Forestry World” — which I inhabited for six years at the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia — to “Development Finance World,” headquartered here in Washington with the World Bank, the IMF, and myriad think tanks and advocacy groups interested in development.
In many ways, it’s refreshing to be around people who don’t know what the “+” in REDD+ means, and who don’t realize that referring to “sustainable forest management” rather than “sustainable management of forests” means picking a side in a long-standing and sometimes acrimonious debate over the role of industrial logging in the tropics. I’m hopeful that my new colleagues find it equally charming when I reveal that I’m naïve to various nuances of the development finance discourse that have emerged since I last took part.
But the relative isolation of these two “worlds” has no doubt led to missed opportunities for cross-fertilization. I’ve been struck by the fact that work by CGD and other proponents of Cash on Delivery Aid has remained relatively unknown to proponents of REDD+ — and vice versa — even though “payment for performance” has always been the feature of REDD+ that prospectively distinguishes it from traditional development assistance to the forestry sector.
What’s interesting is that these two streams of analysis and practice got started at about the same time. The initial working paper by Owen Barder and Nancy Birdsall on COD Aid, “Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid,” was published in 2006. This was just as consensus was building around what Ken Chomitz at the World Bank called in At Loggerheads, his 2006 study on the relationship between deforestation and poverty reduction, “a great opportunity for arbitrage.” The arbitrage he had in mind: matching industrialized countries’ willingness to pay for averted carbon emissions with low-return but high-emissions deforestation taking place in the tropics. The associated mechanism being negotiated under the UNFCCC — reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — is what we now call REDD+. (And for the uninitiated, the “+” connotes the inclusion of activities related to forest conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.)
The evolutionary paths of the two concepts appear to have followed similar trajectories. COD Aid builds on but is different from various other “results-based” aid instruments by focusing on payment for performance at the national level, thereby incentivizing removal of policy barriers and extra-sectoral constraints. REDD+ builds on previous “payments for environmental services” schemes, and was initiated with project-level “demonstration activities,” but proponents recognized early on that unless it was successful in catalyzing transformational change across sectors, deforestation would continue.
Similar Solutions to Similar Problems
Because COD Aid and REDD+ have been evolving in parallel universes, there appears to have been a fair degree of simultaneous “invention of the wheel” taking place, as both communities have tackled common problems. For example, selection of appropriate indicators of performance and monitoring metrics has been a key focus of the COD Aid literature; early REDD+ debates (which occurred under the rubric of “avoided deforestation”) focused on the degree to which technological advances in remote sensing were sufficient to provide accurate measurements of changes in forest carbon stocks.
Both communities have had to grapple with how to establish appropriate baselines (or “reference emission levels” in the case of REDD+), how to determine the size of the payment, and how to avoid creating perverse incentives to game the system.
Both COD Aid and REDD+ have faced resistance from those who worry that payment-for-performance would only worsen corruption, a concern addressed in a recent CGD working paper by Charles Kenny and Bill Savedoff, “Can Results-Based Payments Reduce Corruption? ” Both communities would do well to pay more attention to bureaucratic constraints on the donor side to allocating funds for pay-for-performance. One example: Nancy Birdsall’s recent blog post on how OECD DAC rules for “counting” aid disallowed Norway’s bilateral REDD+ agreement with Brazil based on which bank account committed funds were sitting in. And the list goes on.
Learning from Each Other
It’s clear that there is a rich two-way learning agenda between these two communities. The newly launched CGD initiative on forests and climate change, Tropical Forests for Climate and Development, aims to, among other things, help ensure that REDD+ proponents in Forestry World take advantage of the insights and experience of COD Aid in Development Finance World—and vice versa.
While all of the areas I’ve mentioned are fertile areas for comparative analysis, there are three that I think are particularly ripe:
How to deal with safeguards: A major concern in negotiations over REDD+ is how to ensure that payments for reducing forest-based emissions don’t result in unintended negative consequences for vulnerable human and ecological communities. Proponents of COD Aid have proposed various ways to ensure that delivery of the quantity of results in (say) the health and education sectors is not at the expense of quality; are there lessons that would be applicable to the forestry sector?
Preconditions: REDD+ skeptics point to the weak governance conditions in most forest countries and ask how payment-for-performance forest conservation could possibly work. In the new preface to their 2010 book, Cash on Delivery: A New Approach to Foreign Aid, Nancy Birdsall and Bill Savedoff argue for minimum preconditions and assert that COD Aid may be “ideal” for fragile states with weak institutions. Is it conceivable that the same could be true for REDD+?
The degree to which the reframing of the donor-recipient relationship is the most significant feature of the new approaches: Over the last year, when I’ve been asked to speak about REDD+, I’ve often projected these two contrasting images: The first shows IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus, with his arms sternly crossed, famously looking over President Suharto’s shoulder as the latter signed a humiliating Letter of Intent with the IMF during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis.
Credit: Getty Images
The second is of Indonesian President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Stoltenberg of Norway, standing side by side as their ministers signed a Letter of Intent on REDD+ in 2010.
Credit: Statsministerens kontor
In my mind, the images show that payments for forest protection really can be the basis for a partnership of equals. They also illustrate Birdsall and Savedoff’s argument that “COD Aid is worth trying because it creates a better relationship between funders and recipients.”
In future blog posts, I’ll elaborate on areas where I think the forestry sector in general, and REDD+ in particular, may be different from the areas to which COD Aid has been applied, especially with respect to the political economy of the forestry sector.In the meantime, I welcome colleagues from Forestry World and Development Finance World to join me in acquainting with each other these two siblings, unfortunately separated at birth.
Imagine for a moment a world in which rich countries followed through on their rather vague promise at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce their emissions and cope with climate change. How should that money be spent?
Since that pledge was made most of the efforts have focused, understandably, on how to raise the money. After all, if you can’t raise it you can’t spend it. But a major obstacle in raising the money has been lack of agreement on how it would be spent. In recognition of that problem, CGD hosted a conference last week, How to Spend It (If We Had It): Priorities for Allocating International Climate Change Finance. While there was no consensus there were plenty of good ideas.
How much and where?
CGD President Nancy Birdsall kicked off the day-long event by asking participants, many of whom are experts in development finance, how much they believed could be raised. Many thought that public finance would be quite modest, much less than the $100 billion. Artur Cardoso de Lacerda, a senior official with Brazil’s finance ministry, and Billy Pizer, formerly of the US Treasury, outlined priorities from the point of view of a recipient and funder country. Artur urged that funds go to support the recipient’s own climate plans.
Barry Carin from the Center for International Governance Innovation questioned whether funds should be transferred to developing countries at all, arguing from a real politik point of view that the funds would be easier to raise—and just as useful in addressing climate change—if the funds were spent on technology and emissions at home. Would legislators be more inclined to appropriate funding if it were spent in their own countries?
A clear priority is the need to develop low-carbon (eventually zero-carbon), low-cost energy sources so that developing countries can meet their energy needs for poverty-reducing economic growth and advanced economies can maintain their standards of living. Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested “governments must play a crucial role in promoting innovation by funding research and development on new energy technologies.”
CGD senior fellow Arvind Subramanian suggested that advanced countries transfer technology to developing countries in exchange for imposing a border tax on their exports, based on his recent CGD book “Greenprint.” Julia Bucknall, sector manager for energy in the South Asia region of the World Bank, provided promising evidence of a resurgence in support for climate-friendly hydropower at the World Bank.
However, despite advances in solar, wind, and other low-carbon energy technologies, Howard Herzog, senior research engineer in the MIT Energy Initiative, argued that without rapid advances in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology it will not be possible avert runaway climate change.
“The largest growing energy source in the world is coal, and gas follows the same path” particularly in developing countries like China, he said. Efforts to capture and sequester greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have stalled and, lacking a high price on carbon emissions, the cost of sequestration will prove prohibitive. Herzog estimated that even once a number of plants are operational the cost will still be around $70-100 per ton of carbon sequestered. In other words, funding brilliant new ideas for CCS and low/zero-carbon energy and finding ways to make these technologies available in fast-growing developing economies should be high on the agenda.
Leveraging private capital
With dim prospects for securing large amounts of public funding for climate, a persistent priority is to create innovative new financing products that will motivate institutional investors (who manage a global savings pool of $80 TRILLION) to invest in climate-friendly projects in developing countries.
In a lively panel moderated by Shilpa Patel, John Morton, vice-president for investment policy at the US Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC); Ken Lay, senior managing director at the Rock Creek Group; and IFC’s Vikram Widge outlined exciting new ideas being explored at their respective institutions to lengthen maturities (beyond the 3-5 year timeframe offered by commercial banks), aggregate risk classes (like advanced and developing country cities), and apply risk-reducing insurance tools. Watch this space for more news about these exciting new green finance initiatives.
The critical role of forests
CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour, who arrived at CGD recently after six years in Indonesia as director general of the Center for Research on Tropical Forests (CIFOR), reminded the group that one important use of climate change finance must be to reduce the significant share of global GHGs released by the deforestation of tropical rainforests.
In a moving lunchtime address, Seymour said that it’s time to refresh the forest agenda with rigorous analysis of why forests are important to climate change and development, and what can be done to stem forest loss. Under Seymour’s leadership, CGD is preparing to launch a new initiative aimed at refocusing attention on forests as a critical weapon in combating climate change and assessing the potential of “payment-for-performance” schemes to increase the flow of targeted funding to reduce deforestation.
On this second point, Frances and others will draw on CGD’s extensive work on Cash on Delivery Aid. Jonah Busch, who recently joined CGD from Conservation International, outlined the lessons from ongoing pay-for-performance programs to reduce deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).
Getting the most out of government and institution policies
What about using public climate finance to support policy reforms that will provide incentives for climate-smart investments? A self-described right-wing Republican, Eli Lehrer, of The R Street Institute, made a compelling case for implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax in the United States and offered a range of ideas on how to eliminate or reduce existing taxes and use new carbon tax revenues as an offset. Such a strategy, Lehrer suggested, could be politically appealing to Republican voters. Ian Parry of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department presented evidence from a new IMF book on the need to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, which amount to $2 trillion annually globally. And Xueman Wang from the World Bank’s Carbon Finance group outlined a program to develop market-based tools for GHG emissions reduction in 16 developing countries.
As the world looks to the Green Climate Fund and other mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of climate finance to developing countries, lessons from the ongoing Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), which were crisply summarized by the World Bank’s Patricia Bliss-Guest, senior manager of the CIFs, can help. Many people think that the GCF should focus primarily on adaptation finance to the poorest and most vulnerable countries, and I outlined suggestions from my paper with Nancy Birdsall on principles for managing adaptation finance.
The conference, the second in a series of three organized by the Korea Development Institute, CGD, and CIGI, highlighted pressing priorities for spending climate finance, most of which would also deliver development and ecological benefits. The list of priorities should reassure public funders that there funds could be put to good use. Now if they could just deliver them.
On my summer vacation in Montana this year, I made my much-anticipated first trip to Glacier National Park. The scenery was indeed stunning, but the famed glaciers less so. A hike up to the Grinnell Glacier revealed a weeping patch of snow and ice, greatly diminished from the formidable structure depicted in the century-old photos in the lodge. According to the park ranger, all of the glaciers in the park may be completely gone by 2030. For me, having recently returned to the US after six years as the director general of Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Indonesia, where I saw first-hand the impacts of climate change on both people and forests in the tropics, it was a powerful reminder that the effects of climate change are being felt all around the world.
The science tells much the same story, of course. The release last week of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (highlights here) provides further evidence of the immense gap between the urgency of action demanded by climate science and the slow-as-molasses pace of the international response. (I would have said “glacial” pace, but seeing how fast the glaciers are retreating, that no longer seems an appropriate adjective.) While we’ll have to wait until next March and April for the IPCC’s reports on adaptation and mitigation, I’m willing to bet that the scientific consensus on the particularly adverse consequences of climate change for developing countries will only get stronger.
CGD’s focus is on what industrialized countries can do to support development, not just through aid, but also through a range of other policies that impact the development prospects of poor countries. Climate-related policies will surely rise higher on the list as we deepen our understanding of the implications of climate change, and the appropriate global division of labor for doing something about it.
That brings me to another feature of my summer vacation in Montana, which was watching train after train speed by during the day, and hearing them go thundering throughout the night, each with a seemingly endless number of cars piled high with coal. Unquestionably the largest and most important task of industrialized countries is to reduce our voracious consumption of fossil fuels. My great-grandfather was a coal miner, so I probably have a particularly large share of carbon debt for which I need to atone.
But reducing emissions from fossil fuel combustion only gets us part of the way to where we need to be in order to avert catastrophic climate change. Back in 2007, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report helped put tropical forests back on the international agenda by illuminating the large share of greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and other land-use change. That year’s global climate conference in Bali (a.k.a. the 13th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or “COP 13”) produced an Action Plan for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, a process known as “REDD.”
REDD was based on the assumption that rich countries would pay developing countries to protect their forests. It appealed to the global North as a potentially low-cost way to reduce total global emissions, thereby slowing climate change and buying time to make more costly cuts in their own emissions. It was attractive to countries in the global South as a new source of development finance. And it was attractive to conservationists as a new rationale and source of funding to protect all the other values of tropical forests, not least their astonishing wealth of biological diversity.
But large-scale finance for REDD depended on an overall climate deal, prospects for which were dashed at the failed Copenhagen negotiations in 2009. Enthusiasm for REDD (which admittedly was irrationally exuberant knowing what we did about the challenges of forest governance) has gradually given way to what one former REDD negotiator calls a “narrative of disappointment.”
National-level political leaders and local-level project proponents who placed early bets on REDD have been caught between the rock of limited international funding, and the hard place of implementation challenges. Those challenges range from powerful interests in continuing deforestation business-as-usual -- especially in light of the profits to be made from producing commodities like palm oil and soybeans that replace forests -- to the difficulty of sorting out conflicting land tenure claims and ensuring that REDD interventions don’t make forest-dependent communities worse off. And while no one doubts the wisdom of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, many observers question the potential of REDD as a mechanism for forest protection.
Against this background, I’m proud and frankly a bit worried that CGD has invited me to lead a brave effort to confront this “narrative of disappointment” infecting the discourse on forests and climate change. My colleagues and I hope to refresh the agenda with rigorous analysis of why forests are important to climate change and to development, and what can be done to stem forest loss. Over the next two years, we’ll be taking another look at what the science, the economics, and the politics are telling us about what’s needed and what’s possible.
In particular, we’ll be assessing the potential of “payment-for-performance” as applied to the management of forests, drawing upon CGD’s work on Cash on Delivery Aid as applied in other sectors. Remarkably, proponents of performance-based aid and proponents of REDD have for the most part been working in parallel silos. In my next blog, I’ll speculate on what the two camps might learn from each other.
It’s probably too late to reverse the retreat of the glaciers in Montana, but here’s hoping it’s not too late to regain the momentum behind REDD.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an extraordinary undertaking. Hundreds of scientists volunteer to put their professional lives on hold for months or years at a time. They synthesize the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles to provide policymakers and the public with the best current scientific understanding of climate change. Thousands more experts review and provide comments on sections of the report (I was one of these thousands).
On Friday in Stockholm the IPCC released the first of a series of four reports comprising its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), documenting the “physical science basis” of climate change. You won’t see any direct mention in this report of fires, floods or hurricanes; those topics will be covered in a companion report on “impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” to be released in March. A report to be released in April on “mitigation of climate change” will include renewable energy, energy efficiency and reduced deforestation. And a synthesis report will be released next October.
Here are twelve takeaway messages from Friday’s IPCC report. (The titles are mine; the quoted text and italicization is taken directly from the report’s 36-page Summary for Policymakers).
1. Climate change is undeniably occurring.
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
2. We’ve never seen anything like this before.
“The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions.”
3. Humans are the cause.
“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system. This evidence for human influence has grown since [The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007]. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
4. Climate change will continue.
“Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”
5. Get ready for more heat waves…
“It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration.”
6. …more and bigger storms…
“Extreme precipitation events over most of the mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent by the end of this century, as global mean surface temperature increases”
7. …less ice and snow…
“It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.”
8. …higher sea levels…
“Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.”
9. …and acid oceans.
“The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification…Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.”
10. These changes will be with us for a long time.
“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”
11. How bad things get is up to us.
“Limiting the warming caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions alone with a probability of >33%, >50%, and >66% to less than 2°C since the period 1861–1880, will require cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources to stay between 0 and about 1560 GtC, 0 and about 1210 GtC, and 0 and about 1000 GtC since that period respectively. These upper amounts are reduced to about 880 GtC, 840 GtC, and 800 GtC respectively, when accounting for non-CO2 forcings.”
12. It’s irreversible* (but there’s an asterisk).
“A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.”
Two weeks ago I joined CGD as a Research Fellow. I am thrilled to join colleagues who follow the science of climate change closely, and who have made the case for years that climate change and the challenges of development are inextricably entwined. The impacts of climate change hit the poor first and worst (see publications by Bill Cline, here and David Wheeler, here). Most emissions have historically come from rich countries, coloring how finance for adaptation to climate change should be transferred (see policy paper by Nancy Birdsall and Michele de Nevers, here). However, the profile of emitting countries has changed rapidly so that mitigating climate change requires new approaches to cooperation between rich and poor nations, as suggested in a new book by Arvind Subramanian. Nancy Birdsall and Bill Savedoff have promoted making foreign aid more efficient and accountable by paying for development outcomes rather than inputs (see their book, “Cash on Delivery,” here). Applying the same principle to performance-based payments for reducing tropical deforestation could provide one of the most cost-effective, politically accepted methods to stabilize the climate, as described here by Frances Seymour.
You can expect to see more on climate and forests from CGD in the coming months. For now, here is one final takeaway from the IPCC report—a message to skeptics seizing upon a slow-down in the rate of increase in surface temperature in the short-term as an excuse to ignore larger trends:
13. Keep your eye on the long-term trends, not on cherry-picked time periods.
“Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05 [–0.05 to +0.15] °C per decade), which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade).”
The latest news from FORMA demonstrates the power of global and regional economic cycles as drivers of deforestation. My previous post highlighted the rapid growth and spread of forest clearing during the first phase of the global economic recovery. Fortunately, new clearing has declined sharply since then, as the chart of FORMA's global indicator shows below. The effectiveness of forest protection may vary somewhat from quarter to quarter, but not nearly enough to explain such pronounced swings. They have undoubtedly been generated by the economic forces—product and factor prices, exchange rates, and interest rates—that drive investments in large-scale forest clearing. I have analyzed their effects on Indonesian forest clearing in a CGD working paper with Dan Hammer, Robin Kraft and Susmita Dasgupta.
Thanks to FORMA, we can now identify aggregate changes in forest clearing that were previously in the domain of speculation. In the charts below, the left column tracks global and regional indicators and trends, while the right column tracks deviations from trend. Globally, the latest update still indicates a steeply rising trend in new clearing. However, it has been accompanied by two pronounced cycles that reflect economic fluctuations since 2005. At the regional level, these forces have apparently operated with different timing and magnitude. New clearing has grown rapidly in Asia and Africa since 2005, while it has remained nearly constant in Latin America. On the other hand, the first cycle around trend is much more pronounced in Latin America. All three regions exhibit strong second cycles, although the timing is different. Somewhat remarkably, the Latin American cycle appears to lead the other two by about a year.
These charts, along with our just-published update for CGD's Forest Conservation Performance Rating (fCPR), offer several lessons for forest policymakers as they design and implement REDD+ programs:
Be patient and cautious in judging the effectiveness of new programs
Economic drivers are powerful, and changes in deforestation over the economic cycle may or may not be in synch with policymakers' expectations. New programs may seem unduly effective if they are lucky enough to coincide with economic downturns, when deforestation falls anyway. By the same token, programs that coincide with upswings in economic activity may be judged too harshly. During a boom, a new program may justifiably be considered successful if new clearing remains constant, or even increases modestly.
Don't assume that fixed conservation incentives will work
Forest monitoring and inspection teams are almost always overstretched, and they may be unable to contain deforestation if the expected profitability of new clearing suddenly jumps. If incentives for clearing trend upward, REDD+ programs are only likely to succeed if countervailing incentives for conservation also trend upward.
Don't assume that reduced forest clearing in one country means global improvement
Land conversion for profit is a global enterprise. Local REDD+ incentives may be sufficient to satisfy local forest proprietors, but proprietors elsewhere may accelerate clearing to take up the resulting slack in global markets. Our current and previousfCPR reports suggest that local conservation measures have been accompanied by such displacement, both within Brazil and Indonesia, and from those countries to their neighbors. In addition, forest clearing in Africa has increased sharply as new conservation measures have begun to take hold in Asia and Latin America.
Keep a close eye on developments in Latin America
The forest cycle in Latin America seems to lead other regions by almost a year, for reasons that remain to be determined. Future research should investigate the effects of regional differences in product mixes, capital markets, and exchange rate policies.