After the failure of last year’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, the rhetoric about climate change threats was scaled right back at the meetings last week in Cancun, Mexico. This produced two important developments on forestry, a key issue for Indonesia.
First, independent research now shows that deforestation is not a major generator of greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, industrialized countries and WWF and Greenpeace failed to win agreement for their proposals that cessation of conversion of forest land should be a precondition for climate change aid to developing countries.
Exaggeration of the impact of forest industries and understatement of the cost of halting forest conversion has been a standard feature of the climate change debate for over a decade. This has been fostered by Greenpeace and WWF.
For example, when the 2006 report by the British Government economist Lord Stern claimed that 17 percent of global emissions were caused by deforestation, Greenpeace and WWF inflated that to 20 percent, without evidence.
Both groups have also repeatedly overstated the environmental impact of any forest conversion,
typically without scientific justification.
But now even the Stern data has been called into question. New research was reported at Cancun which finds that deforestation accounts only for 6 to 8 percent of global emissions and that number will fall further when carbon stored by forest regrowth is counted.
This research was produced by US-based Consultants Winrock International, on commission from the World Bank.
This means the estimates prepared for Indonesia’s National Climate Change office, led by former head of WWF Indonesia, Agus Purnomo, will have overstated the need for Indonesia to reduce emissions and understated the cost of doing so.
So not only is Indonesia’s target of reducing emission by 26 percent by 2020 now unnecessarily large, achieving it will now be harder and more expensive.
Since forestry emissions are now minor, not major, the importance and relevance of the “REDD” ( reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ) program is now also reduced.
As well, the case is diminished for a moratorium on conversion of forest land earmarked for development.
This was another position pushed by Greenpeace and WWF to restrain growth in Indonesia’s pulp, paper and palm oil industries.
The result from Cancun also gives a good indication of the sort of proposal for a new global treaty that will be put forward next year at the climate change meeting in South Africa. This will be largely a voluntary arrangement.
Each country will set out its low carbon strategy. There will be no obligations on developing countries to reduce emissions and there will be no regulated trading in global carbon credits.
There will be no treaty obligation on developing countries to cease forest conversion and nor will that be a condition for provision of aid to developing countries to assist development of national climate change strategies.
On the contrary, the Cancun meeting strongly reasserted the right of each developing country to take whatever action is necessary to advance national economic development goals.
The campaign by Greenpeace and WWF and Western aid donors to require forested developing countries to stop any further conversion of forest land to other purposes, such as expansion of agriculture, has failed.
This new situation presents two challenges in Jakarta.
The first is to Indonesia’s officials who urged their President to adopt a bigger and more costly commitment to reduce emissions than any other developing country on the basis of advice from consultancies they supported, including McKinsey and Company, that emissions from deforestation were large.
This cannot be justified now that the numbers upon which the estimate Indonesia assessed its rate of deforestation are now shown to be overstated by at least 50 percent.
The second is to Western environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF, who have long campaigned for a halt to forest conservation, stating that deforestation emissions are high, and implying there is no economic justification for deforestation.
The consequences of relying on advice from consultants recommended by environmental NGOs or selected by aid donors is now obvious.
Indonesia has been promised aid to improve forest management. It should be used to commission independent advice on the nature and source of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia; and on the economic importance to Indonesia of conversion of forest to more productive uses. The case for a moratorium on forest conversion should be set aside until the facts of the matter are properly and independently established.
Result from Cancun gives a good indication of the sort of proposal for a new global treaty that will be put forward at the climate change meeting in South Africa.
The writer is Chairman of World Growth which released a report at Cancun demonstrating that the costs of the REDD deforestation emission strategies have been significantly underestimated.