If international drivers of deforestation are such a big deal, why were they left out of the climate negotiations?

While there was much talk in Bonn about the international drivers of deforestation, the text agreed by countries curiously left out all mention of it.  Surely tackling the international drivers, for example unsustainable demand for timber or agricultural crops, needs to be a key part of our efforts if we have any hope of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation?

At present, the only formal commitment is in the  Cancun decision text on REDD+, which encourages “all Parties to find effective ways to reduce the human pressure on forests that results in greenhouse gas emissions, including actions to address drivers of deforestation”, but falls short of any specifics about what needs to be done. Much of the conversation on REDD+ relates purely to what developing countries will do to address emissions from forests. But for progress to be made locally, there must be stronger support to address the international drivers of deforestation.

A paper by Eric Lambin and Patrick Meyfroidt highlights the need to address international drivers stating that “the acceleration of economic globalisation in tandem with a looming scarcity of productive land globally may render [strategies in developing countries to reduce deforestation] to be less effective”.  The Union of Concerned Scientists use the analogy of squeezing a balloon at one end resulting in pressure pushing the balloon out at the other end, leading them to conclude that “reducing growth in the demand for commodities that drive deforestation will be important to future successes”.  Addressing these international drivers will take measures that  both stem demand for products that accelerate deforestation as well as measures that dissuade investment in activities that result in deforestation and forest degradation.

There are worries that any measures might affect trade, for example in timber or agricultural commodities, which play a key role in many national  economies. Countries are also concerned that measures to curb emissions from forests might undermine their development. This of course gets to the heart of what is needed to deliver climate compatible development and further highlights the value of natural capital accounting and GDP+ approaches, so hotly debated in the lead up to Rio+20.

So, does dealing with international demand have to result in trade restrictions?  The cornerstone of the EU’s FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) action plan – the Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) – would suggest not.  The EU FLEGT action plan includes a number of measures aimed at excluding illegal timber from EU markets, while also improving the supply of legal timber and increasing the demand for responsible wood products.  The key is in the name –  VPAs are voluntary agreements between the EU and a timber-producing country to ensure that only legally harvested timber is imported into the EU, with support provided to help countries develop and implement their side of the bargain.  On one hand measures are being put in place to outlaw the trade in illegal timber within the EU, while also actively working with timber-producing countries to tackle illegality and continue to access the EU market. So, tackling international drivers does not have to mean reducing or restricting trade then.

We know it won’t be possible to slow, halt and reverse carbon loss – as parties have agreed to in the Cancun text – without tackling international drivers.  So, it’s disappointing to see that the (limited) references to drivers coming out of Bonn refer specifically to developing countries – leaving international drivers untouched (paragraph 72 of the Cancun decision, for those who want details)  This is simply not good enough.

If efforts to tackle emissions from forests are going to be effective, they need to be compatible with a country’s development.  But this should not mean shirking action on the international drivers of deforestation.  Instead, there’s a need to ease concerns that these steps will hamper development by exploring what options are available, how these might affect trade and what can be done to mitigate any negative impacts.

Written by Emily Brickell, ODI, reporting on Bonn

About REDD-net

REDD-net is a network to share the information and experience among organisations working for REDD . The power of interests surrounding climate change and REDD , means that, even where governments are well-disposed, pursuing a pro-poor agenda will largely depend on the capacity of southern NGOs to assimilate the new knowledge and use it to champion the interests of the poor.
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5 Responses to If international drivers of deforestation are such a big deal, why were they left out of the climate negotiations?

  1. Pingback: REDD in the news: 28 May - 3 June 2012 | redd-monitor.org

  2. Thanks for this blog Emily, very interesting. I just wanted to point out that with regards to the VPAs, once ratified by the EU and the host country, the VPA is a legally binding trade agreement (not voluntary). What is voluntary is the decision on the part of the producer country to enter into a VPA. The legal nature of the VPA, as well as the country led process with a (genuinely) participatory multi-stakeholder negotiating platform is one of the key advantages of the VPA approach over commodity roundtables and other voluntary certification approaches to addressing drivers.

    The EUs FLEGT does provide a good model however for dealing with one of the key drivers to deforestation and degradation (illegal logging) without invoking trade restrictions. It is also possible though that some countries are using the ‘trade argument’ in the UNFCC negotiations as a blocking argument to reject any language on international drivers. While it is very true that the SBSTA does not have a mandate to deal with trade issues, it is not necessary to discuss or resolve international trade concerns for negotiators to agree that all Parties take sovereign responsibility to address international drivers where they emanate from within their own jurisdictions. Commodity agriculture and timber extraction are now the most significant drivers to deforestation and forest degradation globally, yet the demand for these commodities emanates from within nation states. Demand side measures can therefore be tackled on a sovereign level (or regional level as is the case with the EU), and it is important that the REDD negotiations in the UNFCCC recognize and agree language on the importance of doing that, without diverting into a trade fight.

    • Emily Brickell, ODI says:

      Hi Kate – thanks for your feedback on the blog and great to hear that you found it interesting.

      Thanks for clarifying the legal nature of the VPAs – perhaps should have clarified that by “voluntary” I was referring to the choice of producer countries to go into the VPA.

      On the UNFCCC negotiations avoiding trade fights and instead developing language that recognises that demand-side measures can be tackled on a sovereign level – this makes a lot of sense and still provides a hook for further progress on demand-side issues. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of demand-side measures in the UNFCCC.


  3. Pingback: If international drivers of deforestation are such a big deal, why were … - Pollution News | reporting on pollution solutions in 2012

  4. Pingback: If international drivers of deforestation are such a big deal, why were they left out of the climate negotiations? | REDD-Net

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