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Climate change threatens to reverse decades of development gains in poor countries, and its impacts are likely to be felt first and worst in poor countries and communities. Avoiding irreversible catastrophic events is not possible without reducing emissions from forest loss. This CGD initiative is investigating performance-based financing mechanisms to help safeguard forests and the benefits they provide to the global climate and more directly to the people who live nearby.
Learn more about the forest team’s new book on saving tropical forests to prevent climate change
Climate and Development
Climate change threatens to reverse decades of development gains in poor countries. It is especially pernicious because its impacts are likely to be felt first and worst in poor countries and communities. Despite the urgency of the problem, progress in UN negotiations proceeds at a snail’s pace.
Climate and Forests
Reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation has become an important part of the international climate agenda. The 2006 Stern Review identified reducing emissions from deforestation as one of four pillars of any climate mitigation strategy. UNEP’s 2011 Bridging the Gap report shows that better forest conservation could provide up to 18 percent of emissions reduction before 2020.
The world can’t hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—above which climate impacts on food production, water supply and ecosystems are projected to increase significantly and irreversible catastrophic events may occur—without reducing emissions from forest loss. Forests are also crucial to economic output, livelihoods, and ecosystem health on which many people in developing countries depend.
Performance-Based Approaches to Forest Conservation
A proposed payment mechanism called REDD+ would transfer funding from industrialized countries to developing countries with tropical forests to “Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation” (REDD) and to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks (the “+” part).
Under REDD+, finance from industrialized countries would be contingent upon recipients achieving verified results and compliance with social and environmental safeguards. Current work on the REDD+ mechanism is seen as a bridge to a future in which industrial countries make ambitious commitments to reduce their own emissions. Some portion of these commitments can be met by paying for reductions in forest countries.
While there is international consensus on the need to conserve forests, progress on establishing a global REDD+ mechanism has been slower than many had hoped. A host of important initiatives have made progress in understanding and testing the component parts of REDD+. But large-scale pay-for-performance international finance directed to the national level is only in the early stages of piloting through a few bilateral agreements.
The development of the REDD+ mechanism has been hampered primarily by lack of ambitious climate commitments by industrial countries. In addition, there are problems regarding the adequacy of available data and methods to establish baselines and measure change; the weak institutional capacity and policy standards in recipient countries; the lack of consensus on the appropriateness of a market-based financing mechanism for forests; and the complexities introduced by the use of Official Development Assistance (ODA) funds to finance REDD+ programs.
CGD’s prior work on COD Aid and other performance-based funding models, and the rapid progress in high-frequency remote sensing techniques to monitor forest status, including FORMA, provide an opening to help address these problems.
Accelerating Performance-Based Finance for Forest Conservation
In the face of these challenges and in view of the critical importance of conserving forests, CGD will conduct research, communications, and policy outreach activities to increase understanding of the central role of forests in meeting climate and development objectives, and to increase the availability of performance-based finance for forest conservation.
In particular, CGD will explore the potential to apply the principles and ongoing experiences with COD Aid to forest conservation.
To this end, CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour and research fellow Jonah Busch are leading the preparation of a book titled “Why Forests? Why Now?” that will bring together the most up-to-date science, economics, and politics surrounding forests, climate, and development to make the case that forests conservation is more urgent — and more achievable — than ever.
On the basis of the evidence from the report, CGD senior associate Michele de Nevers is organizing an expert Working Group that brings together high-level development, aid, finance, and climate experts and decision-makers to identify options to reinvigorate, scale up, and finance performance-based solutions to meet the objectives of REDD+.
WASHINGTON,D.C.(November 11, 2009) -An online tool to monitor tropical rainforests, released today by the Center for Global Development (CGD), detects forest loss in areas as small as a square kilometer (about a third of a square mile), making it easy to know when and where forest destruction is occurring—and thus potentially intervene to stop its spread.
Related ContentVisit the FORMA homepageRead the working paperThe tool, called Forest Monitoring for Action or FORMA, processes data from NASA and other sources to produce detailed maps of deforestation hotspots that are updated each month as new satellite data become available.
The system has important implications for U.S. climate legislation and for the UN-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen early next month. Payments from rich countries to developing countries to support forest preservation are being considered in both cases.
Ulla Tørnæs, Denmark’s minister for development cooperation, said in a recent speech that FORMA will complement a UN program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD). Among other things, the program aims to facilitate rich country payments to developing nations that conserve tropical forests as part of a climate agreement.
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“I feel confident that in Copenhagen we will pursue an effective, efficient and equitable deal on REDD,” Tørnæs said when FORMA was presented at the Civil Society Policy Forum at the World Bank-IMF annual meetings in Istanbul. “FORMA can make available information which is crucial for a proper financing mechanism under REDD.” The Danish government, host of the Copenhagen climate talks, provided financial support for CGD’s work on FORMA.
The FORMA prototype demonstrated in Washington today shows the spread of deforestation in Indonesia from 2000 to October 2009. A nation of 7,000 islands, Indonesia has one of the world’s
largest remaining tropical forests. In monthly time-lapse images from December 2005 to October 2009, deforesting areas appear as cancer-like progressions of red dots. The prototype can be seen online at www.cgdev.org/forest.
“FORMA will provide invaluable information to hard-pressed forestry authorities in developing countries,” said David Wheeler, a CGD senior fellow and FORMA’s chief architect. “And FORMA will make it easier for wealthy countries and developing countries to work together to preserve these irreplaceable treasures of biodiversity—and to keep billions of tons of carbon in the trees and out of the atmosphere.”
Forest destruction accounts for about 15% of carbon dioxide emissions, much of it in tropical forests in developing countries. Although rich countries are willing to pay for forest conservation in these countries, results must be monitored to ensure public support for payments that could reach billions of dollars annually. FORMA will contribute by providing up-to-date information about tropical forest destruction.
An open system freely available online, FORMA makes it possible to easily identify the monthly spread of deforestation at the local level. It complements national forest monitoring programs and will make possible new research on which forest preservation schemes work best in what circumstances. In future phases, FORMA will be extended to other tropical forest countries.
Mari Kuraishi, President of GlobalGiving Foundation, described the global opportunity offered by free public access to the new system: “FORMA opens a new frontier of peer-to-peer support for REDD: imagine individuals thousands of miles away supporting the protection of a microparcel of forest and monitoring the fate of that plot via FORMA.”
FORMA’s tropical forest monitoring can also be important for U.S. climate policy. Some U.S. policymakers view tropical rainforests in developing countries as the top candidates for proposed carbon offsets. In an offset program, U.S. law would allow big emitters to pay to conserve tropical rainforests in return for permission to emit the greenhouse gases that would be emitted if the forests were destroyed.
Such offsets are controversial: many developing countries oppose them, worrying that they will substitute for emissions cuts that must occur in rich countries to reduce the danger of sudden, rapid, and irreversible climate change. At the same time, there is widespread interest in the idea of paying people who live in and near tropical forests to protect them, instead of clearing the forests to raise livestock and crops.
“Payments for tropical forest preservation are an important part of the draft U.S. climate legislation and will almost certainly be part of a global climate deal,” said CGD president Nancy Birdsall. “FORMA makes it possible to apply the famous Russian proverb to the crucial process of forest conservation: trust, but verify.”
FORMA is the second Web-based monitoring tool built by David Wheeler and a small team of researchers at CGD. The first tool, Carbon Monitoring for Action, or CARMA (www.carma.org), reports CO2 emissions from 50,000 power plants worldwide, the companies that operate them, and the cities and countries where they are located.
The airwaves have recently been filled with advertisements heralding a plethora of clean energy technologies. GE promoted its smart grid technologies in a Wizard of Oz-themed Super Bowl ad. Vestas, the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, has branded itself No. 1 in Modern Energy. Various groups have designed commercials touting the potential of "clean coal," including a GE ad featuring models-turned-miners (tagline: "Harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful every day."). And environmental groups have struck back against the branding of coal as "clean" with satirical advertisements (tagline: "Clean coal harnesses the awesome power of the word ‘clean!’". In this maelstrom of marketing, who can say which clean energy technology is best?
Nearly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine whether greenhouse gases (GHGs) pose a threat to peoples’ health or welfare – the first step toward regulation -- the EPA this week issued a draft rule on a national GHG registry:
This is a joint posting with Kevin Ummel
Q: What can we do to save the earth?
Wendell Berry: "Stay put."
Economists are always irritating their colleagues by harping about opportunity cost, but the concept can be useful nonetheless. For example, consider the “carbon account” announced for the Poznan climate change meeting. According to the sponsors, travel and other logistics for the 8,000 conference participants will generate 13,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Participants have duly announced the purchase of “carbon offsets” as atonement for their logistical sins (which begins to sound like the sale of indulgences by the medieval Church, but that’s another story). The whole thing projects a reassuring aura: By purchasing offsets, the participants can cover the “climate cost” of the meeting.