Stern messages on forests and climate


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The 12th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 2nd meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol wrapped up in November with forest issues rising in prominence. An important outcome of the meetings in Nairobi was the elevation of adaptation to climate change to its rightful place on the global climate agenda – a challenge that forests will play a key role in addressing. But what’s likely to keep forests high on that agenda is the debate over “avoided deforestation” as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

One reason is the October release of the Stern Review, an analysis of the economics of climate change published by the UK Government. The Review emphasizes the prevention of further deforestation as one of four “key elements” of future international climate frameworks. It notes that almost one-fifth of total annual GHG emissions now come from deforestation. Put in perspective, this amount is even more than what comes from the gas-guzzling global transport sector.

The Review concludes that emissions abatement from reduced deforestation would be relatively inexpensive. According to a study commissioned by the Review of eight countries responsible for 70 per cent of emissions from land use change, the opportunity cost of income from alternative land uses would be in the order of $5-10 billion annually, if all deforestation were to stop. This translates into as little as $1-2 per ton of averted CO2 emissions on average, compared to unit costs up to 30 times higher for reducing emissions from fossil fuels.

Another reason the Review finds arresting deforestation to be an attractive strategy for reducing emissions is its conclusion that no new technology is necessary. But the Review concedes that “major institutional and policy challenges” would have to be overcome to realize the climate benefits of avoided deforestation. Those challenges include clarifying forest-related property rights, strengthening law enforcement, and overcoming entrenched systems of vested interests. Success would further require developing incentives that reflect local concerns, and minimizing transactions costs.

While welcoming the embrace of forest issues by participants in climate debates, those of us in the forest policy community know that the “technologies” necessary to meet such institutional and policy challenges are complex, contentious, and certainly not cost-free. The onus is now on us to provide the best possible information and analysis on how to address the root causes of deforestation – as well as how to deploy forest resources in the service of renewable energy and adaptation to climate change – in ways that are efficient, effective, and most importantly, fair.

The Stern Review can be downloaded from:

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