Climate Talks Focus on Saving Trees ; in Negotiations, Delegates Seek Rules to Encourage Preservation of Forests

By Gillis, Justin | International New York Times, December 12, 2015 | Go to article overview

Climate Talks Focus on Saving Trees ; in Negotiations, Delegates Seek Rules to Encourage Preservation of Forests


Gillis, Justin, International New York Times


If a deal is reached, nations -- particularly tropical countries - - will have agreed to sharp reductions in deforestation, and in some cases to ending it.

The climate deal being negotiated here is meant to begin a transformation of the world's energy systems, but it has another goal that has received far less attention: a sweeping effort to save the world's forests.

Dozens of countries put forests at the center of the plans they submitted ahead of the conference, near Paris. As the talks began, more than 60 heads of state emphasized their commitment to forest conservation.

If a deal is reached this week and the plans go into effect in 2020, these nations -- particularly tropical countries that are home to the richest diversity of plant and animal life -- will have committed themselves to sharp reductions in deforestation, and in some cases to ending it entirely.

The improper clearing of forests "is an environmental crime," the Brazilian minister of the environment, Izabella Teixeira, said in an interview here. "If I have a crime, this is not acceptable."

In the negotiations, delegates are finishing a tortuous, decade- long effort to create rules to encourage developing countries to preserve their forests.

The last of those rules have been in near-final form for months, and they were formally approved on Thursday at the meeting in Le Bourget. Forests are also likely to be mentioned briefly in the main document being negotiated here. The completion of that broader climate deal could give extra momentum to the forest countries' plans after 2020.

Funds are already flowing to bridge the gap until that happens. As the conference began, Britain, Germany and Norway pledged $5 billion for forest conservation in poor countries through 2020, and they challenged other rich countries to step up.

"We believe it is crucial to have forests and forest protection" to meet international climate goals, Michael Huettner, a manager with the German Environmental Ministry, said in an interview.

Developing countries have made clear that the more financial help they get, the more forest they will be able to conserve. They say they need the money not only to tighten law enforcement, but also to create economic development that could draw poor people away from illegal logging and land clearing.

"If I had one bag of money, I'd be giving it to the Brazilians and the forest countries to sort themselves out," said Andrew Mitchell, executive director of the Global Canopy Program, a forestry think tank in Oxford, England. "It's demonstrably faster and cheaper than anything else we could do."

Several national delegations here -- including Brazil's -- said they intended to act on their forest plans regardless of the language in the final deal. That reflects a growing recognition that ending forest loss and allowing forests to regrow in some places are essential to limit the risks of global warming.

Forests are simultaneously a potential cause of global warming and a potential solution. Healthy forests suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, helping to reduce the warming from human emissions. But forest destruction throws enormous amounts of it back into the air, worsening the problem.

The warming and drying of the climate may in itself kill forests, as is already occurring in the United States and elsewhere, so broad efforts to limit climate change are needed to ensure the continuing role of forests in preserving a livable planet.

The Paris commitments from numerous countries cap an extraordinary two years of efforts to conserve the remaining intact forests of the world.

The major success so far has occurred in Brazil, which managed to reduce Amazon deforestation 80 percent in a decade. …

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