The Forest Dialogue's Initiative on Forests and Climate Change, a 250-person coalition of governments, environmentalists, timber companies, trade unions, financial institutions, and indigenous peoples, released five 'guiding principles' [PDF] in a joint statement at the World Conservation Union (IUCN) World Congress in Barcelona on Wednesday.
Among the recommendations, the initiative said negotiators must address the factors that now complicate halting deforestation, including agriculture production, population growth, and unclear land rights.
'Perverse incentives that encourage the clearing of land that would otherwise have remained as forest should be identified and removed,' the statement said.
Deforestation is reponsible for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet forest management is not included in the Kyoto Protocol, the current international climate agreement. The exclusion was due in part to disagreement within the environmental community about how such a forestry policy should work, or whether it should exist at all.
At December's United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, however, negotiators from Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea said it was unfair that countries that have been actively protecting their forests were not being rewarded for this effort. Conference delegates agreed and included a policy that would compensate nations for forest protection, known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), in the final 'Bali roadmap' [PDF] report.
The policy's ambitions, however, are no easy task. Billions of dollars will likely be necessary to persuade loggers to change their ways. The policy also raises the questions: Who will receive the funds? How will they be distributed? And how will people who depend on forest clearing for their livelihood be compensated if tree felling is prohibited?
Several critics have also raised concerns about the general concept of REDD. 'Reward the destroyers to stop destroyin g- isn't that encouraging those who are doing wrong instead of those who are trying to protect the forests?' said Kanyinke Sena, Eastern Africa representative for the Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee.
While the initiative's statement does not provide specific answers to these questions, it emphasizes that sustainable forest management must be central to the REDD agreement.
'Unless development issues such as poverty and corruption are addressed... a revenue stream to reduce deforestation might not do the trick,' said Warren Evans, senior director of the World Bank Environment Department.
The guidelines also call for climate policies that respect the 'importance of mapping and securing the tenure, property, and carbon rights of Indigenous Peoples, family forest owners, and local communities.' These groups have often been excluded from climate negotiations both in their own countries and in international negotiations.
'For a long time we have been kept out - the people really doing work [of traditional forest management],' said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 'It's good that we are finally being heard through the Forest Dialogues.'
The initiative's consensus is similar to what environmentalists have been saying since sustainability became a popular talking point nearly two decades ago. Yet the collaboration provides the first comprehensive guidelines on REDD for climate negotiators. 'The huge step is having a unified statement from businesses to indigenous groups,' said Daniel Birchmeier, senior program officer for Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). 'That can't be ignored.'
The consensus also suggests that the environmental community as a whole is more willing to include forestry in a climate agreement than it was in the past. The initiative was organized mainly by IUCN and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, but leaders from the largest environmental organizations all participated in the process.
While the REDD policy has still not been finalized, several countries are already accepting funds to support anti-deforestation measures. Earlier this year, Norway became the first donor to Brazil's voluntary forestry fund, which the government hopes will collect $1 billion annually to help protect the Amazon forest from further destruction. And the World Bank's Carbon Finance Unit selected 14 forest-rich countries in July to receive grants for policies that they hope will avoid further deforestation.