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 Spring 2011

By Pipa Elias

Last December, UCS staff traveled to Cancun, Mexico, for the annual United Nations climate negotiations, joining government representatives, activists, business leaders, and other nonprofit groups to push for strong international action on global warming. Tensions were running high, as the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire in 2012 and virtually no progress was made at the previous year’s meeting on post-Kyoto actions to reduce heat-trapping emissions. While the Cancun negotiations made only marginal progress toward this goal, during the final hours more than 190 countries agreed on a number of important steps, most notably a resolution to conserve tropical forests through a set of policies known as REDD+.

UCS worked hard to secure delegates’ support for these policies, which aim to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD) while also restoring forests and increasing carbon storage in existing forests (the “plus”). Because deforestation is responsible for about 15 percent of the world’s global warming emissions, REDD+ can play an important role in global emissions reductions.

Ensuring a Strong Future for Forests

As part of our efforts to foster international consensus on REDD+ and ensure these policies encourage scientifically sound accounting and measurement of tropical forest carbon, UCS released a new report in Cancun titled The Plus Side: Promoting Sustainable Carbon Sequestration in Tropical Forests. The Plus Side explains how a variety of forestry activities can be used to achieve the goals of REDD+ while meeting strict standards for protecting the ecosystem and local communities. Complementing the report was a fact sheet, “Deforestation Today: It’s Just Business,” which explains how large agricultural companies that remove timber from and burn forests in tropical countries—replacing them with soybean, cattle, or palm plantations to produce palm oil—are the primary drivers of deforestation today.

The Cancun Agreement established preliminary steps to protect tropical forests and addressed many of the issues UCS has been speaking about for many years. We are especially pleased that the agreement:

  • establishes that the goal of tropical forest protection is to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions and increasing sequestration;
  • urges all countries to address the drivers of deforestation and work together to determine how policies can reduce pressure on tropical forests;
  • enables a UN technical committee to establish strong rules for setting baselines and measuring emissions;
  • allows forest protection initiatives to be funded in several different ways; and
  • requires countries to adhere to safeguards on human rights, community participation, and protection of biological diversity, which should help promote sustainable development in many tropical countries.

Our Work Is Not Done

Through years of collaboration with international policy makers, UCS has succeeded in shaping a strong, scientifically sound REDD+ agreement. We recognize, however, that this alone will not save tropical forests. We will work to ensure that developing countries get the support they need to make REDD+ a reality, that REDD+ implementation is both environmentally and socially sound, and that it achieves real and meaningful reductions in heat-trapping emissions.

Patricia (Pipa) Elias is a former analyst/advocate for the UCS Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

Check out our collection of reports and fact sheets on REDD+.