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Forest Carbon Market Faces Bolivian Barrier at Talks

Bolivia is objecting to the creation of a United Nations carbon market that would allow richer nations to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by protecting forests in developing countries.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program would set out how to measure forest carbon stocks and how to fund their protection. It builds on UN draft decisions that allow for the use of carbon markets to reduce emissions. Bolivia says it doesn’t want the market mechanisms influencing what’s done in forests.

“We won’t accept the REDD package if markets remain,” Pablo Solon, chief climate envoy for Bolivia, said in an interview. “Every country is free to do what they want within their borders, but the international agreement shouldn’t mention carbon markets because then they’re forcing us to accept them. The market exists only if it’s made; it’s fictitious.”

The objection threatens the establishment of a market supported by at least 70 nations that the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates could help prevent the 500 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from deforestation. At current prices for UN offset credits, that’s worth about $7.8 billion.

‘Rights of Nature’

At a press conference this morning, Solon reiterated his concerns about the direction of the negotiation, saying they weren’t taking account of the “rights of nature” and demands of his country for rich nations to cut their carbon emissions more deeply.

Bolivia’s concerns are important because under the UN rules, which require consensus, any party to the talks can hold up progress by making a firm objection. The nation’s President Evo Morales will speak to the conference on Dec. 9.

“The proposals by Bolivia about other approaches to decrease the emissions of greenhouse gases have not been developed,” Solon said. “The only one discussed is a market option. The rights of nature have been omitted.”

Envoys from 193 nations at two weeks of UN climate change talks in the Cancun, Mexico, are trying to set rules for the deforestation program, known as REDD in UN jargon.

Cancun Package

The REDD mechanism would be included in a package of decisions that delegates aim to approve in Cancun. Other measures include a climate aid fund, new pledges to cut emissions in rich nations and methods to calculate and report those reductions.

Forests contain an estimated 638 gigatons of carbon worldwide, more than all the carbon in the earth’s atmosphere, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sponsors the talks. One gigaton is a billion tons.

UN offset credits for 2011, which allow companies in developed nations to meet their emissions targets by investing in clean energy and efficiency projects in developing nations, traded at 11.65 euros ($15.57) on Dec. 3.

Negotiators “have a very advanced level of progress” on resolving differences over REDD, Mexican environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said in an interview. In the absence of a UN carbon market, countries including Norway, the U.K. and France have pledged $4.6 billion to help developing nations protect forests, he said. Norway alone has pledged $1 billion in assistance to help safeguard Indonesia’s jungles.

Korea’s Position

South Korean Ambassador for Climate Change Shin Yeon-Sung and Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei both said in interviews that REDD measures should be included in a package of decisions for agreement on Dec. 10, when the talks wrap up.

“REDD is very ripe -- the package is more or less negotiated,” Brazilian Climate Change Ambassador Sergio Serra said in an interview. Even if the main package on forests is held up by Bolivia, it’s unlikely to object to so-called fast-start financing that can help nations develop the skills needed to measure the carbon contained in their forests, he said.

Forestry carbon markets are promoted by the Rainforest Coalition, a group of more than 40 developing countries nations led by Papua New Guinea. The 27-nation European Union also supports the measure and in a Nov. 28 briefing document said the aim of any REDD mechanism should be to halve deforestation by 2020 and end it by 2030.

Pressure Groups

The Bolivians are backed by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth in opposing monetizing the value of carbon locked in trees. Brazil, home to the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, also has reservations, though it won’t oppose a UN decision that allows for it, Serra said.

“We accept the involvement of carbon markets in REDD on a limited basis,” Serra said. “If we give a prominent role to the carbon markets in REDD, you end up with it being a self-defeating scheme, because they are offsets.”

Serra and Elvira Quesada both said that aside from Bolivia’s opposition, the forestry decision could get held up if nations without forests demand progress in areas where they have interests before accepting a final package.

“There needs to be a balanced set of decisions that are useful to every country in the world,” Elvira Quesada said. “We have to be sure that if there are 10 or 20 countries that REDD isn’t useful for because they don’t have forests, we find a solution for them.”

Bolivia’s Solon said handing out carbon credits for protecting forests makes it easier for industrialized nations to achieve their emissions reductions targets without taking domestic action to rein in greenhouse gases.

“We want to save the forest, but not save developed countries from the responsibility to cut their emissions,” Solon said. “We think there should be a forests mechanism, but this mechanism should be integral and not only focused on one detail of forests, the capture of CO2 emissions. Forests are much more than that.”

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