Australian Outlook

Discussing Deforestation

03 Jan 2015
Radhika Roy
Image Credit: Flickr (Pison Jaujip) Creative Commons.(Image cropped).

The third article in a series following the COP 20 in Lima and an AIIA workshop on climate change looks at the problem of deforestation and possible solutions.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 Report, deforestation contributes approximately 12% of global CO2 emissions annually and up to 24% when including agriculture and land use changes. It is estimated that nearly 13 million hectares of land are deforested every year.

Deforestation is caused by a number of direct and indirect drivers in various regions across the world. Direct drivers include agricultural expansion for energy and food production, timber logging, infrastructure development, forest fires, fuel wood collection and charcoal production. Indirect drivers of deforestation include rapid development driven by short-term profits, poverty and a lack of sustainable energy sources. Poor forest governance compounds the problem of deforestation, including weak legislation, limited enforcement and corruption.

The European Union is the largest global net importer of embodied deforestation.  This issue dominated discussions at a recent AIIA, Konrad Adenauer Foundation and University of Melbourne workshop. Delegates suggested potential new policy measures for the EU to adopt: these included extending the sustainability criteria for biofuels to include other uses for the same crops, mandatory labelling of the forest footprint for food products, increasing the import tariffs for commodities associated with deforestation and attaching sustainability criteria to these import commodities.

Global policy options also exist to combat deforestation, the first being The New York Declaration on Forests. This is the non-legally binding political declaration that grew out of dialogue among governments, companies and civil society at the 2014 UN Climate Summit. This declaration saw world leaders for the first time endorse a global timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and to strive to end natural forest loss by 2030. The New York Declaration on Forests also aims to support and help meet private-sector goals of eliminating deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities by no later than 2020. It is estimated that meeting these targets would cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution every year.

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is another strategy designed to combat deforestation. REDD+ is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and to invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. Apart from their carbon storage role, forests provide many other ecosystem services to society including water regulation, soil protection, non-timber forest products (including food and fibre), climate regulation and biodiversity. As such, REDD+ can provide important environmental, economic and social benefits to relevant countries. However, for REDD+ to succeed it must gain support from political actors in both developed and developing countries. REDD+ relies on sufficient national preparedness and the capacity to enforce the program through effective governance and legislation.

Additionally, many voluntary measures exist to combat deforestation, including the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and private sector actions to eliminate deforestation from supply chains. These actions can lead to a push for stronger regulations. However, while voluntary actions are increasing in number and ambition, they are still not sufficient as lone measures to halt deforestation.

Delegates reinforced this sentiment, highlighting the need for consumer legislation to include food product labelling requirements alongside sustainable biofuels regulation, public procurement standards and legislation requiring imported agricultural commodities to be legally and/or sustainably produced. Delegates concluded that while REDD+ presents great potential to change to the economic motives driving deforestation, its success depends on ambitious mitigation targets, financial commitments and political acceptance. National legislative reform is undeniably crucial. It is hoped that the COP 20 in Lima has provide some impetus for national legislative reform.

Radhika Roy is a former intern with the Australian Institute of International Affairs National Office. This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence.

This is the third article in a series responding to key issues at the COP 20 in Lima as well as the AIIA international expert workshop on climate change issues. This workshop was run in conjunction with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges at the University of Melbourne in November 2014.