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