Progress seen on forest scheme

Around 60 countries pushed ahead on Thursday with a multi-billion-dollar scheme to reduce climate-changing emissions from deforestation, British minister Joan Ruddock said.


“There was a tremendous mood of determination to get things done. I regard this as quite a breakthrough, actually,” Ruddock, who is secretary of state for energy and climate change, told AFP in a phone interview.

Around 60 countries, gathering donor economies and poor countries with large tropical forests, met for the one-day conference in Paris.

It aimed at fleshing out an initiative launched on the sidelines of the UN climate summit in December.

Between 12-20 per cent of worldwide carbon emissions come from loss of trees and conversion of forest land to agriculture.

The scheme was launched in Copenhagen by Australia, Britain, France, Japan, Norway and the United States, which pledged a total of $US3.5 billion ($A3.8 billion) from 2010 to 2012.

Under it, poor tropical countries would be financially rewarded for preserving their forests,rather than chopping them down for logging or farming.

The Paris talks were the first step towards deciding how to disburse the money – a process fraught with questions as to how to determine which forests deserved to be protected, how they would be conserved and how to enforce transparency, help indigenous forest dwellers and battle corruption.

Countries agreed on Thursday to set up a steering committee of four developing and four developed countries and establish a “very slim” secretariat, said Ruddock.

They also determined to get an overview of what is already happening in this realm to avoid overlap with existing bilateral or multilateral help. A further meeting will be held in Oslo in May to assess progress.

Germany also announced it would join the aid effort, she said.

“Germany said they would also be joining and would be providing 20-30 per cent of their fast-start money for forestry,” she said, adding that the amount was not specified as the German government was “in the middle of a budget process.”

“Fast-start money” refers to funding for 2010 to 2012, pledged by rich countries under the so-called Copenhagen Accord to assist poor nations fighting climate change.

Around $US30 billion ($A32.8 billion) was promised in total under “fast start,” with a vaguer goal of mustering around $US100 billion ($A109.3 billion) annually by the decade’s end.

Although it was launched at the Copenhagen summit, the forestry initiative technically lies outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the much-troubled arena for dealing with global warming and its impacts.

This means the scheme can be administered without the need for consensus under the 192-nation UNFCCC, an issue that has bedevilled efforts to build a worldwide treaty on climate change after 2012.

In a welcoming speech at the conference, President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke bitterly of the Copenhagen summit as “an example of bad management” and said the process of negotiating the envisioned treaty had to change.

More than 120 heads of state or government, arriving for the meeting’s climax, were handed a draft text that Sarkozy likened to “volapuk,” an invented 19th-century language translatable as “gobbledegook.”

With fiasco looming, around two dozen countries haggled through the final night to craft a compromise, touted as a platform for action.

The Copenhagen Accord would limit warming to two degrees Celsius but does not detail when or how this goal should be achieved nor commit signatories to binding pledges. Nor has it been endorsed by a plenary of UNFCCC members.

Sarkozy admitted the outcome was “frustrating” but argued that the rapid progress yielded by a small group in the space of a few concentrated hours was revealing.

“These working methods have to change… who can believe that this can work?” he said, calling for a “representative” group of countries to do the essential haggling before the global forum becomes involved.

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