Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Tuesday, 14 October 2008 11:18 UK

Forest plan may 'fuel corruption'

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

Rainforest clearance (SPL)
Some groups worry that the Eliasch plan could backfire

The UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has launched a plan to save the world's threatened rainforests - but already it is running into opposition.

The review by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch proposes paying poor nations not to cut down their trees.

The money would come from carbon trading schemes in rich countries where firms have to buy permits to pollute.

However, some development groups have deep reservations about the plan, believing it could fuel corruption.

It is possible that the ambitious and detailed scheme from Mr Eliasch will form the basis of international negotiations to bring forestry into a global climate change agreement. The current deal, the Kyoto Protocol, must soon be updated.

'Reducing poverty'

Some of the most important forested areas in the world are being felled to exploit their resources, or to make way for cattle and other agri-businesses. The clearance and burning of trees and the change in land use is putting into the atmosphere yet more carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas blamed for human-induced climate change.

Forest loses are thought at present to account for about 20% of our extra CO2 emissions.

''Saving forests is critical for tackling climate change," Mr Eliasch said on releasing his report.

Green Room logo (Image: BBC)

"Without action on deforestation, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will be next to impossible, and could lead to additional climate change damages of one trillion a year by 2100.

''Including the forest sector in a new global deal could reduce the costs of tackling climate change by up to 50% and therefore achieve deeper cuts in emissions, as well as reducing poverty in some of the world's poorest areas and protecting biodiversity."

Mr Eliasch's report, Climate Change: Financing Global Forests, makes the case that the forest sector should be included in global carbon markets.

This would see industrialised countries paying tropical nations billions of dollars to conserve their forests through the exchange of traded credits. The idea is that the monies flowing into tropical nations would compensate them for stopping destructive felling and, ultimately, encourage them on to a path sustainable stewardship.

'Market concern'

But a number of development groups are warning that the Eliasch plan could horribly backfire by creating the illusion of carbon savings whilst fuelling corruption in forests nations who do not have the means to protect their forests, and often do not know who legally owns the trees.

Simon Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation says: "We welcome a lot of the ideas in the review - but there is a nightmare scenario here in which we actually make things worse whilst patting ourselves on the back thinking we are making them better.

"We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge faced in some forest nations where governance is virtually non-existent."

A government source told BBC News that rampant forest felling was so serious that it was unlikely that any such plan could fail to help. He said Mr Eliasch had foreseen criticisms over governance. His plan would ensure that good governance was a pre-requisite of obtaining funds for forests.

But Patrick Alley director of Global Witness, a human rights group, warned: "Most of the most critical forest regions, such as the Congo Basin, Indonesia, Latin America, and Papua New Guinea etc, will be shunned by the market because of instability, contested or uncertain tenure, corruption, poor governance, poor or non-existent enforcement systems  and in some cases even conflict.

"This means the market can at most only scratch the surface of the problem by focusing on the few remaining forest regions.

"The notable exception, Brazil, home to the world's largest forest block, does not support the carbon market, opting instead for a fund based approach."

Both organisations say for forest conservation to work, the funding required must be dependable and long-term, and they warn that funding based on carbon markets is inherently volatile and unreliable.

Greenpeace, too, had reservations. Head of biodiversity Andy Tait warned that the proposals would "give a green light to companies to use forest protection abroad as a cheap alternative to making the dramatic cuts in the industrial and energy sectors that we need here in the UK".

WWF-UK welcomed the focus of the review, but its climate change lead, Keith Allott, added: "Greatly reducing emissions from deforestation must be a crucial part of any effective new international agreement to tackle climate change. Initiatives to stop forest loss must go hand in hand with, not at the expense of, ambitious action to reduce industrial emissions."

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