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Pay nations with rainforests to save their trees – columnist argues REDD+ needs to be strengthened

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Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2022. 1:06 pm CST.

Photo credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

By Aaron Humes: Forbes columnist Ken Silverstein argues that ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,’ or REDD+ program first developed as part of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, must be strengthened, and now.

“The time for talk has come to an end. It’s time to fully empower REDD+ at this year’s [Conference of Parties] meeting. It will save trees, mitigate CO2 pollution, and reward rainforest nations, providing wealth that will generate economic expansion. Indeed, rainforests are a cost-effective solution to climate change and should be revered as much as renewables,” he stated in a recent column.

Belize is cited as an example of the inequity of the current carbon credit system, which Silverstein says shuns “sovereign national credits” and permits “voluntary credits” that apply to specific regions or projects. For example, voluntary credits have been issued to protect Belize’s national parks and jaguars. However, the projects receive little of that money — revenues that would protect the forests and hire workers. Such deals are privately negotiated, and the government has no control over them.

“Belize, which is like most other countries, tries to be Paris agreement compliant,” Lennox Gladden, chief climate change officer for Belize told Silverstein. “We implore corporate buyers to purchase sovereign credits instead of acquiring credits on the voluntary carbon market.” (The Government recently had to make the warning again after discovering such activity.)

Belize is not alone: Honduras faces an $8 million shortfall in its environmental budget as it intends to protect its rainforest, which covers 56% of the country and houses 91 national parks and protected areas. But it must also balance the need to create jobs and source food.

Under REDD+, says Silverstein, the rainforest nations have undergone a rigorous process of certifying their forests. The UN reviews their data — before and after a detailed plan has been activated. If the numbers are legitimate and the strategy is approved, credits can be issued. They can then be purchased by corporations or governments. But only governments need to comply with the Paris agreement. Almost all of the money is then distributed. But those “sovereign credits” issued by rainforest nations compete with “voluntary credits” that do not undergo the same level of scrutiny. In other words, it’s hard to determine what gets preserved and where the money goes, Silverstein argues, and with voluntary credits now part of the Paris Agreement, sovereign credits have been ignored and are now devalued.

The goal of the Paris climate agreement is climate neutrality by 2050 — to ensure that emissions and removals offset each other. The roughly 50 gigatonnes of annual CO2 emissions are now partially offset. But rainforest nations have offset 9 gigatonnes of CO2 between 2005 and today. These emissions reductions are available to countries, corporations, and consumers as credits.

“We are here to listen,” said Ambassador Wael Abo Elmagd, special representative of COP 27’s president-designate in Bonn to Silverstein. “Help us listen to you. Now is the time for implementation. We are signaling to everyone that you matter. We are about making progress across the board in a balanced manner.”

Rainforest nations need an estimated $100 billion to ensure the survival of their lands. The carbon markets will raise some of that money. But the trading system must be accredited and go through the UN approval process. Right now, the auditor Ernst & Young is working to make REDD+ more robust, reliable, and predictable. It is also trying to make accurate revenue forecasts and income distribution more transparent.

If negotiators strengthen sovereign credits at the climate conference in Egypt in November, that will create much-needed revenue for rainforest nations. Emilio Sempris, Panama’s former energy minister from 2015 to 2017, explained that his country would earn $6 billion by 2034 — money that would restore land lost to ranching. “We expect thousands of jobs in rural areas due to the incentive law.”

“It’s all about implementation and action,” adds Federica Bietta, managing director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, which devised REDD+. “We only have a limited time to act. Forests are part of that equation. Without the forests, we cannot limit temperature increases and achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.”

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