Forests to be a hot topic in 2011

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Eduardo Rojas-Briales is the Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department and chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF). Eduardo participated in the launch of the International Year of Forests 2011 (Forests 2011) during the 9th Session of the UN Forum on Forests in New York where he encouraged people to take action to improve the state of forests during the Year. Here he talks about why forests are so politically important at the moment and what resources needed to implement REDD.

There will be a big push this year to improve carbon counting techniques.

Why is the International year of the Forests so important right now?

The idea of launching this year has been discussed for a long time. We have observed that regardless of the relevance of all kinds of environmental services, from carbon sequestration as a global asset to soil protection, and even from a strict economic point of view, forests have received very little attention.

Forests are not just minerals, rocks, but a living ecosystem which can be vulnerable, and which can have threats. Sustainable management is complex, and many forests around the world are either in recovery stage or have been degraded.

So, this year is important to achieve higher political momentum and attention, so that people can be really aware of the relevance of forests.

What kind of political momentum would you like to see happen this year?

There are so many different layers, right from the municipality to the national level [which need to be tackled differently]. It is easy for the municipality, even in third world countries, to invest in maintaining the center of the city in a very good condition. But what happens to the rest of the jurisdiction? It is a much lower priority.

One of the problems is that there are lots of cross-sectoral issues in forests, with energy, climate change, land planning, and water management that cannot be solved by the very weak profile of forestry at the moment. These issues need to get to a higher level of government, so that they can be adequately tackled.

What is CPF’s larger role in this year’s activities?

CPF’s role for the year is to assure coordinated communication of forestry issues. Along with the 14 member organisations, we identify and communicate forestry issues and try to put these issues on the international agenda at significant events such as meetings or international conferences.

What is your take on the Cancun REDD+ agreement?

We now have the REDD+ agreement as part of a global architecture. But the resources for REDD+ will, in the interim, come only from official development assistance (ODA). But according to the current financial situations of all the western countries, ODA will most likely be reduced.

From another perspective, it is not ethical to say that we should put more resources on REDD+, and less in education or in health or food security. Because of all this, it is critical that REDD is embedded in the new climate change architecture.

If it is embedded then there is a higher opportunity for developed nations to make a higher commitment to carbon reduction, part of which can be offset through REDD+. And we have fresh money coming from the private sector that would not feature under the Kyoto Protocol.

Furthermore, the process of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was too complicated to work, so hopefully REDD can step in as the alternative.

So, what resources (financial, research etc) are really needed to make REDD work?

The figures differ according to the calculations of each country, however most likely we are speaking about a cost of $20-30 billion dollars per annum [which is needed]. This is three times what is currently available.

Although there are very few people and major stakeholders who criticise REDD, there are real concerns about governance of financial funds in many countries. There is a risk that some countries may inconsistently report carbon evolution. This is one of the issues that worries us; that perhaps this part of the REDD architecture is too weak.

Issues of quantifying soil carbon are also important. There is currently a strong demand from UNFF regarding valuation of forest services. The existing techniques are not ready for efficient daily implementation so there is still quite a lot of work to be done in this field.

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