Aboard the Roller Coaster in Copenhagen

88363083Louis Blumberg directs the California climate program for The Nature Conservancy. He’s also been keeping us posted as an official observer to the UN climate conference.

Copenhagen, December 16

Amidst the protests, the deliberations, the 24/7 schedule and battling what has been dubbed the “COP 15 flu,” the collective energy and sense of import in Copenhagen is still motivating us all to keep at it.

The atmosphere at the Bella Center has been a roller coaster this week. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s tricky to keep up with the constant changes that are happening so rapidly. At one point, we heard that negotiators had included in the draft text a global goal to reduce emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by 2020 and to achieve zero emissions by 2030. This would have been unprecedented. Unfortunately, we later learned that this text was only a placeholder but still could come through in a final agreement.

Adopting a global goal to stop deforestation would certainly be one important measure of success for this conference. It is alarming that the destruction of the world’s forests is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the emissions from all planes, trains and automobiles combined — yet a role for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD) was not included in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This left countries with few economic incentives for preserving their forests, while they stood to make a fortune selling the timber, clearing forests for development or converting them to agriculture.

Enter the forest carbon market. Meeting an ambitious global goal on deforestation will take a lot of resources. A global market that gives value to forest carbon can generate the funding required each year to reduce deforestation at the scale needed to address climate change, while providing cash-poor, forest-rich countries the financial incentives they need to protect their forests rather than destroy them. While it is not the only tool to reduce emissions, it is a crucial one.

California has been a leader in this arena by both establishing a credible, prescriptive method for certifying forest carbon projects and including a role for forest offsets [PDF download from Stanford] in the state’s cap-and-trade program. This is a model that COP 15 negotiators can point to while framing the global solution to reducing deforestation. Let’s hope they come to an agreement soon.

Louis