Remarks by Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson and Acting Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information
Media Workshop on Climate Change in the Lead-Up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's COP17/CMP7 Meeting in Durban, South Africa
Pretoria/Durban, 26-28 October 2011—Ladies and gentlemen of the media.
I have been asked to give you a glimpse into the issue of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation known as REDD or REDD+.
You may be aware that some countries have been looking into carbon capture and storage of carbon emissions coming from power stations—essentially fitting high tech gadgets to collect greenhouse gases and then bury them in the ground.
But there is a tried and tested and indeed lower cost method that has been operating on this planet for millennia—and that is happening in our forests and would continue nice and smoothly if only humans didn't keep chopping them down.
REDD+ might be the answer.
It has for sure become a hot topic as part of the climate negotiations but also as part of the wider discourse on how to transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy.
Perhaps I can provide some fundamental facts on REDD+
*Explain what is happening in terms of preparing countries to take part in this potentially exciting new avenue for more sustainably managing the world's forests-especially since 2008
*Outline likely benefits in terms of the ambition of both developed and developing countries to counter climate change while at the same time tackling other key challenges from loss of biodiversity and wildlife species to securing water supplies and generating decent green jobs
*Then briefly touch on how REDD+ could set the stage for more intelligently managing and investing in other ecosystems such as farmlands and tidal marshes that also soak up greenhouse gases again with multiple benefits for communities and countries.
*And finally, perhaps give some perspectives on what it might mean to South Africa.
It has been known for a long time that cutting trees down release emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Forests store carbon as they grow and also put a lot of carbon into the soils, peatlands, marshlands and other places where they stand.
Humans have been cutting down trees for timber and fuel and clearing them for agriculture and cities and causing degradation through activities such as mining since the dawn of time.
But that deforestation and degradation of forests has accelerated markedly in the last century or so as populations have exploded—in 1900 there were 1.5 billion of us, in 1992 when at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 the climate convention was agreed there were 5.5 billion people.
And sometime next week the seventh billion baby will be born.
While in some parts of the world deforestation is slowing and in the case of North America and Europe, is being to some extent reversed, it is still proceeding at a worrisome rate in Africa and Latin America and in many countries of Asia.
13 million hectares per year of forests are roughly been lost—an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua
South Africa's land area is 122 million hectares—so by my calculation, and please understand that mathematics may not be my strong point, an area the size of South Africa is roughly being lost over ten years.
Scientists calculate that that deforestation amounts to around 1.7 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere annually—about 17 per cent of current greenhouse gas emissions.
So the idea emerged—why not pay developing countries to effectively not chop their trees down?
And in doing so provide a financial incentive that might tip the balance in favour of conservation rather than deforestation.
And that was the plan formally put on the table in 2005 by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica.
Developed countries could, through such financial transfers, count those emissions saved against their own greenhouse gas emissions.
So in 2008, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, launched the UN-Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or UN-REDD and there are other complimentary initiatives such as one spearheaded by the World Bank.
The initiative has been a preparation or perhaps a pilot for the countries involved with a view to nations under the UN climate convention backing a REDD fund or perhaps even a market mechanism.
REDD+ State of Play
To date 14 countries are being supported under UN-REDD ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia in Africa with Nigeria this month coming on board to countries such as Bolivia and Panama in Latin America and Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam in Asia.
Close to $60 million worth of funding has been approved –and the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Fund about $36 million-to assist in areas such as building monitoring, reporting and verification systems—in other words ensuring that if a nation says it is not chopping its forests down, this can be proven to the developed countries supporting the projects and the wider international community.
The money is also assisting in building for example community outreach to involve local and indigenous people—crucial to the success of REDD or should I say REDD+, because it covers not only paying to support standing forests but also includes support to forest land that once had forests or land that has not in recent history held forests.
Even before a formal go-ahead under the UN climate convention, the tantalizing prospects are already attracting voluntary bilateral investments by developed nations such as Norway as well as Germany, Japan, Spain the United Kingdom and others.
The total is just over $4 billion.
Norway for example has pledged $1 billion to Brazil and another $1 billion to Indonesia, which has already triggered a decision by Jakarta to introduce a two year moratorium on the clearing of virgin forest for palm oil—a big money spinning crop used to produce cooking oils to cosmetics to biodiesel.
Some developing countries are in a sense now focusing on the funds flowing for REDD+- and further financial flows as triggers or anchors for catalyzing wider, Green Economy/sustainable development benefits.
Indonesia is a good example—it is trying to establish a Green Corridor, leveraged in part by REDD+ money, in a region called Kalimantan.
For example, palm oil will be planted on degraded land rather by clearing forests.
Indonesia has also made the link between healthy forests and its mining industry.
There is evidence that deforestation is leading to severely diminished river flows in the dry season—it means that these rivers can no longer support barges carrying ores from the mines.
Transportation by barge costs about $10 a ton whereas by road it is between $40 to just under $60 a ton—so REDD+ offers the chance to not only keep carbon out of the atmosphere, but to also a way of keeping rivers flowing and cutting the costs of other key industries.
Marine Ecosystems—Future Prospects
Indonesia is also looking to REDD+ to assist in triggering employment in natural resource management and also in sectors such as forest insurance for workers in nearby cities and towns.
Indonesia is also looking at how its mangroves at the coast can also be part of REDD+-indeed there is growing interest in not only mangroves which qualify under REDD+ but sea grasses and tidal salt marshes.
UNEP, in collaboration with other UN partners, estimates that these marine ecosystems may be absorbing and locking away in their muds and soils somewhere around half the world's transport emissions.
Yet between 20 to 25 per cent of the world's mangroves were lost between 1980 and 2005; the annual rate of loss of tidal salt marshes is up to two per cent and 50 per cent of seagrasses have gone since the 1990s.
Perhaps if REDD+ can proceed faster and further then eventually these other key nature-based carbon capture and storage systems could also be included—again tipping the economics in favour of conservation rather than destruction.
And what about the wider terrestrial or land environment—what are the prospects here?
The way we farm in many parts of the world can increase greenhouse gas emissions—including the practice of ploughing up fields after harvest which releases soil carbon.
UNEP in collaboration scientific centres around the world and with funding from the Global Environment Facility is conducting the Carbon Benefits project in Nigeria, Niger, Kenya and China.
The idea is to establish a standard that will calculate how much carbon is stored under different farming systems including organic agriculture and land management regimes.
Again with a view to one day investors being able to pay farmers in developing countries for the carbon they are banging away in soils and vegetation.
REDD+ in South Africa
What about South Africa—the COP17 host?
I do not profess to be an expert on either South Africa's position on REDD+ or its potential here.
Clearly South Africa is not a vast tropically forested country and while you do not have mangroves per se, South Africa has some seagrass beds on the east coast and salt marshes on the Cape Coast.
However, in the near term there may well be potential in terms of the reforestation dimension—in other words planting and replanting trees and shrubs on degraded land.
There are for example opportunities here to restore degraded landscapes in KwaZulu Natal and thickets in the Eastern Cape providing financial incentives to landowners and state owned areas in terms of improved management and livelihood opportunities for local people.
By some estimates there is some 1.2 million hectares of degraded land in the Eastern Cape.
What might that be worth—well let's take a conservative calculation.
Say just 10 per cent of that area was reforested and restored with carbon prices at $10 a tonne of carbon dioxide.
The amount of carbon sequestered or taken up by these growing trees and shrubs-estimated at 350t per hectare or perhaps even higher under wetter conditions- could be worth seven million Rand a year.
And over say 30 years perhaps around 200 million Rand—in reality it would be less because of what are known as transaction costs such as the cost of the trees to monitoring, report and verification of the projects.
But it gives some indication of the potential and does not include benefits such as soil stabilization, improved water supplies and jobs.
Last night I talked to UNEP's experts working on UN-REDD and they indicated that they stood ready to assist South Africa if the government signalled its interest in assistance.
And perhaps one should not underestimate the potential for reduced emissions from drylands including forestry if REDD+ evolves over the coming years.
A report release a few weeks ago by the UN Environmental Management Group estimates that degradation in the world's drylands is costing countries up to 8 per cent of the countries' concerned GDP.
Yet drylands—home to some two billion people store about one third of the world's carbon in their soils but also trees—are there opportunities here in terms of an evolved REDD+ initiative?
Interestingly drylands will be the focus of Forest Day during Cop17.
So in conclusion, REDD+ is offering a new opportunity to finance both efforts to combat climate change and efforts to accelerate a Green Economy in terms of wider environmental, economic and social benefits.
An agreement under the UN climate convention is likely to move REDD+ forward in terms of scale and pace of uptake and increase the opportunities for countries to better implement and anchor sustainable development, including poverty eradication, within their economies.