As Americans celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, the latest round of UN climate treaty negotiations were getting started in Bonn, Germany. Also underway, according to reports, were the efforts by the world’s richest nations to evade their moral obligation to deal with the severity of the climate crisis.
The Bonn talks are not one of the full-fledged formal negotiating sessions that usually happen once a year, most recently in Copenhagen last December. Rather, the meeting is an intermediate step where much of the groundwork will be laid for the next big negotiating round that will occur this December in Cancun, Mexico.
Though such mid-year talks are attended by much less media frenzy and fanfare than December’s climate-palooza, it is every bit as important for the environmental community to remain vigilant in monitoring the proceedings. And for good reason: On day two at Bonn, reports have already begun surfacing of a so-called “logging loophole” that would allow developed countries to increase their logging efforts without taking ownership of the greenhouse gas emissions that result. This will translate into some 400 megatons of unaccounted greenhouse gas emissions a year— about the same amount of carbon that Spain emits annually.
In other words, a handful of rich countries want to continue cutting down their forests but avoid counting these destructive activities against their overall emissions reductions targets. Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Austria and Sweden are the countries chiefly pushing for the logging loophole.
Protecting forests, especially tropical ones, is one of the quickest and easiest ways we can reduce climate pollution. Globally, tropical deforestation accounts for almost 1/5th of all carbon emissions — more than the entire transport sector. Chopping or burning down tropical rainforests actually causes more emissions than all of the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles combined.
If we can just stop tropical deforestation, we will have taken a huge chunk out of our global carbon tally. Luckily, the U.N. has a proposed plan, known as REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, to do just that.
REDD is a fairly complicated program, but in a nutshell works like this: Rich, developed nations — the countries that are responsible for global warming in the first place — pay developing nations to keep their tropical forests intact. The funds don’t just avoid climate change. They also protect amazing rainforest biodiversity and the communities that rely forest resources for their livelihoods.
Copenhagen was a big letdown on the REDD front, so it’s definitely bad news that the current round of talks in Bonn are going down a similar road.
Still, there has been recent progress as well. The governments of Indonesia and Norway last week inked a $1 billion deal to help Indonesia protect its Paradise Forests — the first major international support for a REDD deal we’ve seen since Copenhagen. Indonesia is the world’s 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases thanks to its unbelievably fast rate of deforestation, and crucially, its government has agreed to a two-year halt to new logging concessions as part of the deal. This is welcome news indeed.
Photo credit: Greenpeace