COP27 leaders aim to slow global deforestation through sovereign carbon credits

A grim forecast hung over the rainforest states in the final days of the COP27 climate conference. But sunshine broke out when DRC Deputy Prime Minister Eve Bazaiba arrived – a real “badass” who brought African and South American nations together to raise the profile of forests and moors.

Their hard work helped put rainforest nations on a de facto fast track to attracting private finance, making it easier for companies to support national efforts to slow deforestation through “sovereign” carbon credits. Given that these loans will be made by federal governments under the Paris Agreement, they will drive up the price and mobilize more funds for forest conservation and infrastructure improvement.

“Scientists have told us clearly that the solution to climate change is to conserve the rainforests and peatlands,” Ms Bazaiba told a roundtable of rainforest officials just three days before the conference concluded. “These elements are essential to save the planet – to save the island nations and a country like ours, Congo. It is important to us to have a common voice and to speak out loud. We are the owners and custodians of these forests.”

The Congo Basin is the lungs of the earth – nature’s way of cleaning the atmosphere. If the rainforests are not tended, the tipping point will soon come with massive consequences. Corporate funding is critical to raising funds to stop illegal logging and create jobs.

But the DRC is also part of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations – an intergovernmental organization with more than 50 other rainforest nations. The deputy prime minister is therefore very concerned about the global South. To this end, developing countries fought to include the REDD+ mechanism in the final agreement. Under this plan, governments account for their forest lands and set targets to stop deforestation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change assesses these advances before approving their performance and emission reductions.

During the roundtable, Ms Bazaiba wanted to know where each delegate came from – the interpersonal touch needed to persuade decision makers. She also persuaded Brazil and Indonesia to support her efforts.

“The plan finally eliminates years of misinformation that UNFCCC REDD+ was not intended for corporations or carbon markets. The private sector has always been welcome to support the efforts of rainforest nations. REDD+ Sovereign Carbon Credits are of the highest environmental integrity and encompass some of the most incredible biodiversity on the planet,” said Kevin Conrad, Executive Director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.

Sun shines on rainforests

The aim is to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in order to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius
. Failure to do so will mean more extreme weather events and costly economic consequences. The temperature now rises to almost 1.2 degrees. If we do nothing to reduce emissions, it will take less than a decade to reach 1.5 degrees, the Global Carbon Budget report says.

In November, the UNFCCC approved the West African country of Gabon to cut 90 million tons of emissions to slow deforestation between 2010 and 2018. During that time, Gabon enacted anti-deforestation laws and protected the habitats of endangered species like elephants, whose numbers grew from 60,000 to 90,000.

Honduras and Belize will follow Gabon. They will soon issue 5.6 million and 7.7 million tons of credit respectively. Papua New Guinea will do the same in 2023, issuing 90 million tons of sovereign carbon credits.

Lee White, Gabon’s Minister for Water, Forests, Sea and Environment shared his experience of the UNFCCC’s REDD+ audit process, which he described as comprehensive and requiring multiple reviews and changes. He contrasted it with that of Norway — one of the few countries that invests directly in the rainforest nations. Norway paid Gabon $70 million to preserve its forests.

“I would say Norway was five times less intense, five times less thorough than the UNFCCC audit,” says White.

And getting Brazil to support the rainforest cause is a major shift. Lula da Silva takes over the presidency in January after ousting incumbent President Jair Bolsanaro, who took office in 2019. Between 2010 and 2018, deforestation escalated, releasing 1 billion tons more CO2 into the atmosphere than the trees absorbed. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, much of this is due to wildfires and deforestation for agriculture.

A star is reborn

But Lula will prioritize the environment. He came to COP27 with all the fanfare modern rock staremphasizing the need to preserve the Amazon
Rainforests and the goal of zero deforestation by 2030. “Brazil is back,” he said to a crowded auditorium with an overflow room.

“The threat to the Amazon forest is a combination of climate change and human impact, slash and burn and agriculture. The more you fragment the forest, the more vulnerable it becomes to climate change and efficient controls. If it is not stopped, we can expect further warming,” says Richard Betts, a scientist at the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, in an interview with this author.

“Can deforestation of the Amazon be slowed? We’re not past the point of no return. The forest helps maintain the local climate. The forest creates a humid climate,” says Betts. “The countries that emit the least are already the hottest and suffer the worst droughts. They have more extreme climates that endanger human health.”

Alphabet, Disney, General Motors
Honeywell and Unilever
are among the most important buyers of emission allowances.

Economic justice is urgently needed – to give rainforest nations the financing they need to protect their trees and switch to cleaner fuels. For Gabon, the proceeds from the sale of carbon credits to the state will go towards forest protection, paying down government debt and supporting the transition to a sustainable economy.

Belize will use carbon credit revenue for conservation, restoration and climate adaptation — or to adapt to economic and social changes caused by warming. The proceeds are shared with traditional environmentalists and for national development. Honduras will provide funds to manufacture furniture and flooring. It will also establish agroforestry operations while planting trees to restore its forest. Eventually, ecotourism becomes a business.

For every tonne of CO2 emitted, half remains in the atmosphere while forests or oceans store the other half. As oil dependency persists, forest-based solutions are worth more. The goal is therefore to cultivate the land and stop deforestation. As such, forests absorb 7.6 billion tons annually. But according to the UNFCCC, we must reduce CO2 emissions by 500 billion tons by 2050.

“The voice of the Global South has been heard,” said Simo Kilepa, Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Environment, Conservation and Climate Change.

Special thanks go to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eve Bazaiba. More than anyone, she outlined the import of forests and peatlands, paving the way for rainforest nations to get the private financing they need to slow deforestation. Gabon, Belize and Honduras are the first to sell government bonds, which could have a cascading effect if successful. Indeed, nature now has value that provides potential economic advantage to developing countries.

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