Delegates at the Copenhagen summit cannot afford to leave the world's rainforests outside of a global climate agreement, says Daniel Murdiyarso. In this week's Green Room, he sets out how plans to make the vital ecosystems worth more alive than dead are developing.
Copenhagen is sending out mixed messages on whether or not forests will be in the next climate regime
There is a growing realisation that the world's tropical and sub-tropical forests need to become an integral part of the new global climate regime.
But why is it so important that it plays a role in the international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions?
When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, it failed to recognise the vast amount of carbon locked in the vital ecosystems.
This meant that the opportunity for developing countries with rainforests to participate in the international treaty were lost.
Five years later, when the Marrakesh Accord was adopted, a tiny amount of forest sector was accepted under the Kyoto mechanism, known as A/R CDM (Afforestation and Reforestation under the Clean Development Mechanism).
But as a result of a number of tough restrictions, including a 1% cap on eligible land, it was estimated that the scheme would only curb some 0.03% of global emissions.
Almost at the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Third Assessment Report revealed the fact that land-use change, especially deforestation in developing countries, contributed about 20% of the total emissions from human activities.
Dead or alive?
If avoiding deforestation was to be part of the solution, the rainforest nations found the idea of being unable to harvest the natural resource a bit scary as it would hit their incomes.
As a result, the idea of reducing, rather than avoiding, emissions was put forward as an alternative. It was deemed that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (Redd) was more attractive.
It was also considered to be a relatively cheap option by Lord Stern's Review, which was commissioned by the UK government.
He concluded that the ecological services provided by the rainforests were more valuable than the revenue generated by harvesting the trees. In short, they were worth more alive than dead.
But is it really cheap? Unless the host countries are supported, Redd projects will not effectively reduce emissions, nor generate finances.
However, if the Redd scheme was up and running quickly, this may give buyers and sellers of the programme's carbon credits a head start.
Under the current climate negotiations in Copenhagen, rich nations are expected to commit to deep cuts in their national emissions.
Redd credits obtained from developing countries could potentially buy the time needed for developed nations to decarbonise their economies.
Provided that the capacity of developing countries is in place, Redd can be implemented relatively quickly.
Bringing forests in to the new global climate agreement, carbon that is stored in various compartments of the ecosystems, will be a new asset.
However, issues regarding land ownership and rights - which had never been properly resolved in many developing countries - will create a new challenge related to carbon rights.
Even if there was no such complication, the governance of the forests has been problematic, especially regarding efficiency and transparency when one looks at the allocation of revenues generated by the scheme.
Redd may offer a new opportunity for rainforest nations to demonstrate good governance.
Forests should be managed more openly involving broader stakeholder participation.
Rights and responsibility that are associated with the benefits will eventually be shared across the stakeholders, from indigenous communities to logging companies.
Copenhagen is sending out a mixed message on whether or not forests will be in the next climate regime.
The first week of long and seemingly endless negotiations will need a strong endorsement from high-level officials this week.
A deadlock that was experienced in Kyoto 12 years ago can be avoided.
COP15 - which looks like a summit - is being supported by more than 100 head of states and governments.
They are coming with the aim of celebrating a success, not a failure.
There is no reason why a meaningful and forward looking agreement will not be achieved here.
After a one-day extension, a small step of a 5% cut in global emissions from 1990 level was finally agreed in Kyoto.
As time has gone by, we have learnt a lot of lessons. Copenhagen should do it better. A deeper cut is needed.
We have to remind ourselves that the atmosphere cannot afford to leave forests behind for the second time.
Dr Daniel Murdiyarso is a senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor), Bogor, Indonesia
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Dr Murdiyarso? Do rainforests need to be part of a global climate agreement? Is the Redd scheme the best way to reduce deforestation? Or is it a side issue at Copenhagen?
It is of vital importance that rainforests are protected as part of a global climate agreement. The Redd scheme seems to be a step in the right direction only if other countries don't rely on it purely to carbon offset without implementing reduction of CO2e emissions in their own countries.
Andrea Northcott, Buckfastleigh, UK
Thank you! It was a JOY to read that. I sure hope they 'get it' and get moving! Nature is prolific. The sooner we begin, the more we accomplish!
Diaa Kristy, Chicago, IL USA
Mankind has suffered from not taking a holistic view of things. Undoubtedly REDD needs to be supported, however, without bringing forth technological solutions that would provide replacement goods for the produce from rainforest trees.
One of the key areas has been the replacement of forests in Indonesia and Malaysia with palm plantations. This has been necessitated by the demand for palm oil. Reasons two fold - increasing population with higher disposable income in developing world, and demand from Europe. Europe was earlier using rapeseed oil for food, however with the switch of rapeseed oil to use as biofuel, demand for palm oil has increased.
We need to address these issues with increasing plantations in waste lands with alternate sources of oils - sustainable palm oil is gathering attention. Increasing the use of jatropha and other waste land products for biodiesel and molasses for biopetrol would be significantly sustainable practices. However the focus is on corn for biofuels increasing the cost of food across the world.
The issue is technological arrogance of the developed world.
Kanwal Jit Singh, Pune, India
This is a very nice article and I completely agreed with Dr Murdiyarso. Redd is one of the cornerstone of Copenhagen global climate agreement. In the Redd scheme the benefits are immense for every one. It could stimulate community forest management, and Eco-tourism. Protecting the forest would lead to better erosion control, water quality and biodiversity.
Engr Salam, Kushtia,Bangladesh
Forests are an integral and essential part of Earth's biosphere, and must be protected. As some countries have already taken the initiative - Norway and Brazil is a good example - it is doubtful that any deal is necessary from the Copenhagen summit. Indeed, given the lack of success in meeting the Kyoto targets set back in 1997, it is probably better if another meaningless international agreement is not reached.
Protecting the worlds remaining tropical forests is an absolute priority in combating climate change. Not only do they act as carbon sinks, these forests are also centers of the Earths bio-diversity. They are truly priceless and any money allocated for their protection and sustainable use would be a valuble investment for future generations.
robert p. curtin, santos-brazil
The CO2 emission from a plane fly from London to Madrid can be digest by 3 to 5 trees. So I agreed with reduction of CO2 emission but let us plant trees and stop deforestation. The leading nation must plant trees and help the poor nations to do the same. Many thanks.