Halt to forest loss a key to stabilising climate

Posted: 20 October 2009

WWF is challenging global leaders to back an ambitious target on stopping forest loss as a major element of efforts to avert the looming climate catastrophe.

Rodney Taylor
Rodney Taylor
WWF International's Forests Director Rodney Taylor urged participants of the Congress, to support a zero net deforestation by 2020 target. Photo © WWF/ Marcelo Tucuna
In his keynote address at the XIIIth World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires on Monday, WWF International's Forests Director Rodney Taylor urged participants of the Congress, including government leaders, NGOs and businesses, to support a global target of zero net deforestation by 2020.

WWF is proposing a groundbreaking global benchmark for action on forests to avoid dangerous climate change and curb biodiversity loss. Despite conservation efforts, deforestation continues at an alarming rate - 13 million hectares per year, or 36 football fields a minute. It generates almost 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and halting forest loss has been identified as one of the most cost-effective ways to keep the world out of the danger zone of runaway climate change. Taylor said that zero net deforestation by 2020 is "a common target - one that sets the scale and urgency with which these threats need to be tackled to maintain the health of the planet." "This is an opportunity to build consensus on how the forest sector can help achieve an early peak of greenhouse gas emissions and a rapid 80 per cent decline in emission levels by 2050." "But this is a global target, and we can only do it together." Taylor called the Congress timely in the lead up to the climate conference in Copenhagen this December, where rich countries have been urged to commit to cut emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020. They also need to contribute financial support of at least US$ 160 billion per annum to developing countries, enabling them to deviate at least 30 per cent from business as usual emissions by 2020.

Deforestation, Sumatra
Deforestation, Sumatra
Deforestation, Sumatra. Global leaders are being challenged to back an ambitious target on stopping forest loss as a major element of efforts to avert the looming climate catastrophe. Photo WWF
In particular, governments must bolster this commitment by backing the REDD mechanism. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD) is a mechanism to provide financial incentives on a global scale to conserve forests rather than convert them. "Rich countries can provide funds to support developing countries in their efforts to curb deforestation, through REDD initiatives," Taylor said. "All governments should support the inclusion of a REDD mechanism as a credible and compensated form of emissions reductions within a post-2012 UN climate treaty." WWF is proposing a target of "zero net deforestation by 2020 because it will consolidate efforts to halt deforestation across various international initiatives and set a global benchmark against which the success of these efforts can be measured. "Zero net deforestation" does not mean "zero deforestation." "Zero net deforestation" acknowledges that some forest loss could be offset by forest restoration and afforestation on degraded land. In addition, a net target leaves room for change in the configuration of the land-use mosaic, provided the net quantity, quality and carbon density of forests is maintained. However, the world´s natural forests must be conserved to maximize reduction of forest-based greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity conservation, "The forest sector, for its part, can contribute through the conservation and sustainable use of forests, but the foresters cannot do it alone," Taylor said. "The integration of other sectors, particularly agriculture, energy and finance, is key for formulating sustainable land-use policies and planning processes."

Addressing the Congress, IUCN Deputy Director General Dr William Jackson said given the rate at which climate change is happening, no country, rich or poor, could afford to neglect its forests.

"The world is currently struggling with the long-term challenges that climate change will have on economic growth, but also how we can realistically stabilize green-house gasses within one decade," said Dr Jackson. "There is a growing realization that forests are one of the few technologies that are immediately available and relatively cost effective when it comes to mitigating climate change. If we manage forests sustainably we can bridge the gap while other technologies are being developed for reducing emissions." The World Forestry Congress, held only every six to seven years, brings together thousands of key decision makers and industry representatives from forest industry, including senior forestry officials, policy makers, and major industry and NGO representatives.

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