The Latest From Copenhagen: U.S. Undermining Effort to Curb Deforestation

COP15 negotiations on a text aimed at curbing deforestation are quickly unraveling, according to several conservation and indigenous rights organizations. These groups are calling a recently released draft text on REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation – a major step backwards.

"There's a proliferation of options being introduced into the draft text," Bill Barclay of the Rainforest Action Network told The Nation, "What you really want is a narrowing down of issues at this point in negotiations."

COP15 negotiations officially enter high level talks Tuesday evening as the various working groups of the UNFCCC are scheduled to send drafts to environmental ministers for review before heads of state begin to take up final texts on Thursday and Friday.

According to a release by Global Forest Coalition (GFC) this morning: "What was supposed to be the last negotiation round to prepare an agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) last night ended up in a massacre."

"Its discouraging," Barclay says.

Several people I've spoken with today put the blame squarely at the feet of the U.S. delegation.

U.S. negotiators have successfully pushed for the removal of language that would ensure that financing from developed countries isn't used to convert existing forests to palm oil or bio fuels plantations in poor and developing ones.

Simona Lovera of GFC told me: "Basically the trees that Barack Obama is talking about planting are meant to fuel U.S. cars."

"The U.S. does not want to emphasize forest conservation," she continued.

Much of the financing being discussed at COP15 comes through what are called "offsets." Developed countries fund projects in poor countries and are then able to count that project as a reduction in emissions in their own country.

With respect to REDD, developed countries finance projects that preserve existing forests or revitalize degraded forests. Conservation groups, such as GFC and the Rainforest Action Network, want to see language in the REDD agreement that ensures those funds will not be used to convert existing forests to plantations.

And it is those protections that the U.S. has successfully lobbied to remove from the draft text.

"The U.S. proposed a weaker option on conversion," Barclay told me. "We thought that consensus was reached – African countries were on board – and then the U.S. came in and really gummed up the works."

According to both Barclay and Lovera, the U.S. is also behind an effort to undermine protections for indigenous people who reside within forests which would be funded through REDD.

Another draft is expected to be released this evening. "Things are moving backward," Barclay says, "National parties to the talks are moving to get their interest back into the text where we were previously building consensus. National interest is coming in at the expense of forest protections."

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