Fiona Harvey Cancun – Seeing the wood for the trees

Forestry is one of the key areas of focus at the Cancun climate change talks, now in their second week. A programme – called REDD, for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation – that would provide poor countries with financial incentives to keep their remaining forests standing is being worked out, and has broad support.

Getting to this point has taken nearly two decades, even though keeping trees standing is by far the cheapest way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and staving off dangerous levels of global warming.

Some of the problems that have plagued the forestry talks include how to ensure that if logging is stopped in one part of a forest, it does not resume elsewhere; how to define land that has been degraded but could be restored; how to monitor the vast tracts of trees; whether and how to allow some forms of sustainable logging; and how to respect the rights of indigenous forest peoples.

The success of REDD can be measured by the billions of dollars that developed countries have been willing to put towards it – about $6bn in total so far, including $1bn from the US.

But although REDD has been praised as a well-worked out mechanism that allays many of these concerns, future funding for the programme is still in doubt. After the money pledged by developed country governments from their taxpayers’ funds has run out, it may prove difficult to provide the further private sector funding necessary to make it worthwhile for poor countries to forego the opportunity to exploit their forests.

Further reading: If money grew on trees