If a Tree Falls in the Forest, How Much Carbon Is Released: UN Issues Warning If Private Sector Fails to Invest in REDD

"Forests are the natural treasure chests of the world, providing a host of ecosystem services that -- and this needs to be said very clearly and up front -- are paramount to ensuring economic progress and human well-being, not only locally but also at global scale." -- UNEP Finance Initiative{1}

A new United Nations report is calling on the private sector to help finance the REDD+ program of forest-based climate change mitigation, issuing a stern warning for the world if USD 17-40 billion per year is not committed to halve carbon emissions from deforestation by 2030.

Entitled "REDDy, SET, GROW, Part 2: Private sector suggestions for international climate change negotiators," the report says that this target must be met in order to hold a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, the target set by world governments in international climate change agreements.

"Investment at this scale is highly unlikely to come from governments alone," the authors state. "To put the figure above into context, cumulatively available public funds from donor countries to date stand at approximately USD 7 billion...hence, investment from, and engagement of, the private sector—including financial institutions (FIs) and financial intermediaries—is essential, particularly for implementation activities."{2}

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a press release in September warning of "huge financial and environmental losses that could stem from a post-Kyoto climate change deal that fails to spur private sector investment into deforestation and forest degradation reduction efforts."{3} 


In 2008, the UN launched a program to help developing nations reduce global warming emissions from deforestation. UN-REDD, which stands for the United Nations Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme, is a collaboration between three agencies of the UN: the United National Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).{4}

REDD+ takes the concept a step further. Whereas REDD gave participating countries financial incentives to preserve their forests, giving a monetary value to keeping the carbon stored there and out of the atmosphere where it would contribute to global warming, REDD+ "goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks...{and} will require the full engagement and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities," according to the UN-REDD Programme.{5} 


"What forests give us is fundamental in the strictest sense of the word: they stabilise the global climate system, regulate water cycles, provide habitat for flora, fauna and people, and host genetic resources of unimaginable potential," writes Richard Burrett, Chair of UNEP FI's Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services Work Stream; Nick Robins, Co-Chair of UNEP FI's Climate Change Working Group; and Paul Clements Hunt, Head of UNEP Finance Initiative, in a joint foreword to the UN report.

"Forests and their services remain, however, chronically undervalued by today’s economic and political decision makers, resulting in their rapid destruction. One of the many consequences of current deforestation and forest degradation is their contribution of approximately one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions."{6}

The UN General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of the Forests. But considering how important forests are to the health of the global environment—and that 1.6 billion people and countless other species depend on the forests to live—every year should be the year of the forests.

"As we look ahead to the Rio+20 conference in 2012, we have a chance to agree on how best to realize the full potential of forests," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his video address on the launch of the International Year of Forests in New York in February, "for sustainable development, economic stability, the fight against poverty, and our efforts to ensure future prosperity for all."{7}



1. http://www.unepfi.org/fileadmin/documents/reddysetgrowII.pdf 

2. Ibid., 1.

3. http://www.unep.org/GreenEconomy/InformationMaterials/News/PressRelease/tabid/4612/language/en-US/Default.aspx?DocumentId=2653&ArticleId=8856 

4. http://www.fao.org/climatechange/unredd/en/ 

5. http://www.un-redd.com/AboutREDD/tabid/582/Default.html 

6. Ibid., 1.

7. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2011/sgsm13384.doc.htm

image: Deforestation in the Amazon Rain Forest; the roads in the forest follow a typical fishbone pattern (credit: NASA, Wikimedia Commons)