Spain — Forest protection can help fight climate change but any UN-led projects must also ease poverty and safeguard rights of indigenous peoples, an international alliance said on Wednesday.
The group, spanning 250 representatives of business, trade unions, forestry companies, governments and local and indigenous peoples, laid down guidelines for an international drive to tap forests to help soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
Deforestation, with trees burnt to clear land for farming from the Amazon to the Congo, accounts for 20 percent of world emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Trees store carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they die.
“Forests have a unique ability to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon and lessen the vulnerability of people and ecosystems to climate change,” the declaration by the Forest Dialogue alliance said.
They said projects should aim to curb poverty, strengthen land rights, safeguard indigenous peoples, improve forest management and should not be a substitute for deep cuts in industrial emissions of greenhouse gases by rich nations.
“This is a step forward for us,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, head of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told Reuters.
Many indigenous peoples from Brazil to Indonesia fear forests will be bought up by rich investors and deprive them of access to forests for food, clothing or building materials.
Under UN plans as part of a new climate treaty to avert everything from heatwaves to rising seas, tropical nations could get tradeable credits for slowing the rate of deforestation or restoring forest land.
Such a scheme might generate billions of dollars in credits a year and soak up huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), hosting an Oct. 5-14 congress in Barcelona, said the declaration was an attempt to guide 190 nations who are due to agree a new long-term climate treaty by the end of 2009.
“We now ask the world to work with us in putting these guiding principles into action,” Stewart Maginnis, head of the IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme, told a news conference.
Warren Evans of the World Bank’s environment department, involved in the alliance, said protection could help improve livelihoods of people in developing nations and protect animals and plants. He said the principles laid down by the alliance were “already making a difference” to the World Bank’s planning.
Backers said the global financial crisis, sapping donor nations’ budgets, should not distract from the plans. By some estimates, destruction of the natural world represents losses of a staggering US$2-$5 trillion a year, Maginnis said.
“A few billion dollars is a very good buy. The costs are marginal compared to the benefits,” he said.