Lord Deben is president of GLOBE International and chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change. He was formerly UK secretary of state for the environment.
Mexican Senator Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez is vice-president of the Americas region of GLOBE International
(The foreword was published in a modified version as an op-ed in the Guardian on October 30, 2013)
With November's annual UN climate conference approaching, it is clear that the next two years are crucial if we are to reach a global climate deal in 2015. Reducing emissions from forests is a crucial step with deforestation representing up to 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions – more than that of the entire transport sector.
But international efforts to tackle deforestation can only succeed if they involve national parliaments, which will lay the groundwork for a global deal in 2015. This is the main message of this study released by the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International) ahead of UNFCCC COP 19 in Warsaw.
Securing a global climate deal has always faced multiple obstacles. But one aspect of the international climate negotiations that was first viewed as a relatively easy win has gradually emerged as a major stumbling block: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).
The idea behind REDD is that developed economies with emission reduction obligations pay developing countries, where most of the world's major intact forests are found, for the service they provide in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it up.
As climate talks have progressed, perceptions of REDD have shifted markedly. Once seen as a mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and cheaply, it is now viewed as a complex process incorporating much broader issues than simply reducing carbon, for example indigenous community rights. In the run-up to 2015, how REDD is handled will be crucial. And breaking the deadlock on forests can provide a breakthrough necessary to advance international climate negotiations ahead of 2015.
National parliaments have so far been neglected in REDD negotiations and support programmes. This is tremendously short-sighted given that REDD policies are only feasible with an appropriate legislative base.Urgent engagement with parliaments, and advancement of strong national forest legislation, is now crucial if a REDD deal is to be reached.
GLOBE's report draws on experiences in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico – four out of the six countries with the largest forest cover in the world. In recent decades, there has been a relentless march of deforestation caused by agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, and fires. Brazil and Indonesia alone account for more than 51% of the world's emissions from forest loss. In the Amazon, for example, around 17% of forests have been lost in the last 50 years according to the WWF.
This destruction has not been entirely wanton. Globally, some 1.6 billion people rely directly on benefits that forests offer, including food, fresh water, clothing, traditional medicine and shelter.
While REDD can make a huge positive step toward tackling deforestation, the potentially large international transfers of funds and wide range of stakeholders involved have left the process open to risks of fraud and corruption. And progress towards national legislation, essential for REDD to work in practice has been achingly slow.
In part, this is because many parliaments lack capacity to bring legislation into being. In some cases, this is because knowledge about the value and importance of forests is low. By channelling more energy into boosting capacity and enabling parliaments to pass national legislation, governments and international institutions could help create the political space for a global forest deal in 2015. As is increasingly recognised, it is only by implementing national and sub-national forest and climate change frameworks that the political conditions for a global agreement in 2015 will be created.
Mexico is perhaps the best example of where REDD legislation is making a difference. In 2012, the Mexican legislature was one of the first in the world to pass laws preparing for REDD. The new laws link the Mexican forest emission monitoring system to international standards, and require that communities which depend on forests for their livelihoods are included in all decision-making on how forests are used.
These new laws have multiple benefits at home – for example reducing the risk of corruption and land-related conflicts. They have also enabled Mexico to play a leadership role in international forest negotiations, potentially influencing the more than 40 countries that are currently drafting national REDD strategies.
With 2015 on the horizon, much is now at stake for a global deal on forests and climate change. These can both still be secured with a concerted effort that is driven by national parliaments. Time is of the essence, however, and we ignore the ticking clock at our peril.