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BONN, Germany — The Nature Conservancy’s forest carbon team hosted an event here at the Bonn climate talks this week to present an innovative proposal on how to reduce emissions from global deforestation — a crucial part of effectively addressing climate change. I sat down with the team to get their perspectives on the proposal and how it fits into the broader negotiations that are going on.

Chrissy Schwinn: Why did The Nature Conservancy develop this proposal?

Duncan Marsh (the Conservancy’s director of international climate policy): Two years ago, countries decided that a program for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) will be part of the global agreement on climate change being negotiated here.

The design of the REDD program will determine how successful it is in actually reducing emissions and stopping deforestation. There are already a few proposals out there about what this might take. As a leader in this area — and a conservation organization that cares deeply about climate change and the fate of the world’s forests — we wanted to share our expertise with negotiators and help shape a future agreement that will work in the real world, not just on paper.

CS: The Conservancy’s proposal is called “A Global Mechanism for Reducing Emissions from the Forest Sector.” What does that mean?

Greg Fishbein (the Conservancy’s director of forest carbon): We debuted our proposal for an integrated global mechanism for REDD with the goal of halving deforestation by 2020 and making a major contribution to stabilizing the atmosphere. It’s one of the more comprehensive proposals out there — it shows how REDD could be implemented and financed over the next 10 years. It brings the financial, technical, social and environmental considerations together in one place so policymakers can see how it all fits together.

A central component of our proposal is a carbon market, which we feel is necessary to generate the magnitude of investments needed to stop deforestation. Our proposal also includes public funding that would help lay the groundwork in the early stages of REDD implementation.

CS: What reactions have we gotten from negotiators and other organizations?

Sarene Marshall (the Conservancy’s deputy director for climate change): We just started, but so far reactions been very encouraging. While there are people who will be critical of any proposal for carbon markets based on cap-and-trade systems, many support a diversity of funding streams to achieve these goals. There’s clearly a lot of interest in understanding how all the different pieces of REDD could come together, both within an international agreement and in specific countries and communities.

We’ve gotten very positive feedback about how we have pulled from our on-the-ground work and experience in places like Berau, Indonesia and the Noel Kempff Mercado Climate Action Project in Bolivia to back up this proposal. We’ve also taken a business approach to this, by including projections on the financial needs and how those needs would be met. And we’ve made sure it all adds up in a way that is consistent. So we are taking real conservation experience, tying it with hard financial analysis, balancing it with political realities, and showing how it can all come together in an international agreement.

CS: Halving deforestation is no small thing. How can we really get there?

Rane Cortez (Conservancy forest carbon policy advisor): REDD can make a significant contribution to reducing global climate change emissions, but we need to be realistic about what’s possible through REDD and when. We designed this proposal with the aim of really making a dent in deforestation. We lay out a phased approach that supports projects such as Noel Kempff to develop the expertise needed to implement REDD. Then we want to move to the state or provincial level like in Berau so governments can get their systems in place. And eventually we see it growing to nation-wide REDD programs in developing countries around the world.

CS: If you stop deforestation in one country, won’t it just move to another one?

Rane Cortez: This is a potential risk, but there are ways to make sure that this doesn’t happen. In order to prevent shifting deforestation to other countries, we need to design a system that promotes broad participation of developing countries. This means we need a way to help protect forests that aren’t currently threatened by deforestation, and stop deforestation in places where it is happening. Our proposal provides incentives for both efforts. Some of the money generated from stopping deforestation within threatened forests is directed to help protect forests that do not currently face threats but could face increasing pressure in the future.

CS: Why is “on-the-ground” work so important in shaping the Conservancy’s perspectives?

Greg Fishbein: It gives us experience that others just don’t have. There are a lot of people here who are looking for constructive solutions and they respect our point of view because it’s grounded in real work on the ground. This helps us know which issues are important to address, and it gives us real tangible reasons why we’ve made certain choices.

I’m very pleased where we are with this. It’s important to have a point of view on the solution to the broader problem, in addition to positions on specific issues. It’s when you can bring the policy makers a comprehensive solution that your value becomes really clear. And that’s what the Nature Conservancy is seeking to do here.

View the webcast for the event (click “Charts” to see slides).
Download the proposal or presentation.

(Image: Deforestations patterns showing forest conversion to agriculture between Santa Cruz and Noel Kempff Mercado National Park of Bolivia. Credit: Hermes Justiniano.)

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