At a recent CI event intended to draw the attention of the United Nations General Assembly to the role of forests in combating climate change, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana spoke passionately of his commitment to tropical forest conservation and the potential transformation of his country’s economy through the international sale of carbon credits.
Guyana’s pioneering approach to tackle deforestation is admirable, but Jagdeo has much more ambitious aims. His main intent is to inspire other countries to take similar action, creating international momentum for forest conservation and connecting the efforts of developing and industrialized countries of all sizes.
Guyana’s vision of a low-carbon, climate resilient future is groundbreaking and innovative, but it will only succeed on the global scale if other, larger countries get on board – and fast.
Protecting Forests at Scale
The destruction of forests currently accounts for about 16 percent of global carbon emissions, more than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes combined. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is currently discussing a proposed program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) in order to reduce this percentage through international cooperation.
Guyana has been a key player in the REDD movement. About the size of Idaho, the country is almost 80 percent forested, totaling around 16.2 million hectares (about 40 million acres). A forest the size of Guyana’s is extremely significant, and its protection is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for climate change mitigation.
IN DEPTH: Guyana is considered a High Forest Low Deforestation country. Learn more about the important role these countries play in the fight against climate change.
However, forests in larger countries dwarf Guyana’s by comparison. While Brazil’s proportion of forested land (57 percent) is less than Guyana’s, its size means it has about 478 million hectares (almost 1.2 billion acres) of forest. Brazil also has the highest deforestation rate on the planet, which is largely responsible for making it the world’s fourth largest carbon emitter. High rates of deforestation also plague the extensive forests of Indonesia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru and other tropical countries.
Because deforestation accounts for such a large percentage of global emissions, climate change will exceed dangerous levels unless reducing deforestation is part of the suite of activities embraced by the international community.
That means all forested countries will need to follow Guyana’s lead and develop appropriate emissions reductions or low carbon development plans if we are to stop a global rise in temperature that will threaten the lives of billions of people, as well as countless species and the ecosystems on which we depend.
With 80 percent of the remaining Amazon forest within Brazil’s borders, the country’s government is working quickly to support REDD and REDD+ projects (the latter recognizing a broader set of activities that can help reduce emissions from the forest sector), encourage private sector involvement and develop a legal framework for climate change mitigation and payment for ecosystem services.
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CI-Brazil plays an integral role in the government’s initiatives. CI is working with the government of the states of Amapá and Pará and is helping to increase Brazilian involvement in REDD projects. CI is also developing three of these projects in existing protected areas, working with the government to engage indigenous groups and other forest communities in the development of conservation strategies for priority areas.
Putting the Pieces Together
Think of the world’s climate change mitigation efforts as a giant puzzle; the pieces may be different sizes and shapes, but they are all essential parts of the solution. Like many other countries, Guyana and Brazil are approaching the issue of forest carbon protection and financing with different strategies and at different scales, yet both of them are engaging in ambitious agendas.
And even as the UNFCCC debates a new set of agreements, these will likely not include sufficient or timely funding to immediately protect the world’s standing forests. As we approach December’s climate change talks in Copenhagen, the need for international agreement on carbon financing initiatives for REDD and REDD+ has never been more clear.
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