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Getting ready for REDD

December 13, 2009

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    Photo: iycnpictures (flickr)

Nowadays you get wrist bands for everything. From Live-Aid to Breast Cancer, we pin our allegiances on ourselves like medals to demonstrate that we care, that we have hope or just to show that we are good citizens. The COP15 (UN Climate Change Conference) glowing yellowy-green wrist band — which declares “Yes We Can” — perhaps stands for all of these: that we care about our world, that we have faith that humanity can change its path and that we are prepared to do our bit.

Today was Forest Day. You could even say it was a REDD letter day since most conversations seemed to hinge on whether the new agreements would include REDD — Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. With 18 percent of our global emissions resulting from deforestation, tackling this low-hanging fruit has always been important but it has become even more so in recent years.

Now we know that we need to reduce our emissions by 17 gigatons if we are to have any chance of keeping to the target of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Providing incentives for people NOT to cut down their forests would mean that we could achieve one third of this ambitious target. Tackling the hoary issue of forests therefore seems to be too important not to do, but it is beset with problems — problems of land tenure, governance and ensuring that forest users, rather than the large multi-national corporations, reap the benefits.

The message from the meetings here in Copenhagen was an acknowledgement that the problems will be significant, but that we will have to solve them along the way since we don’t have time to wait while we work out the best ways forward. Paying for forest conservation will also not come cheaply — if we are serious about it, then US $30 billion will be needed on an annual basis.

These are not, obviously, small sums. But they are achievable. After all, we were reminded by one speaker that they represent similar sums to the annual bonuses set aside by some of the major banks. Whatever does get released. it is really important that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) strive to ensure that the projects that do go ahead are working in the interest of the poorest members of the community.

Mercy Corps in interested in REDD as a mechanism that can help forest-based and dependent communities access funds that rightfully should belong to them, supporting establishment and protection of sustainable livelihoods. The challenge is going to be in making sure the flows are not diverted along the way, leaving the marginalised to the benefits of others higher up the food chain.